Carolyn Kizer was born in Spokane, Washington, on December 10, 1924. She was the author of eight books of poetry: Cool Calm & Collected (Copper Canyon Press, 2000); Harping On: Poems 1985-1995 (1996); The Nearness of You: Poems for Men (1986); Yin (1984), which won the Pulitzer Prize; Mermaids in the Basement: Poems for Women (1984); Midnight Was My Cry: New and Selected Poems (1971); Knock Upon Silence (1965); and The Ungrateful Garden (1961).
She also wrote Picking and Choosing: Prose on Prose(1995), Proses: Essays on Poets and Poetry (1994), and Carrying Over: Translations from Chinese, Urdu, Macedonian, Hebrew and French-African (1986), and edited 100 Great Poems by Women (1995) and The Essential Clare (1992).
According to an article at the Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest, “Kizer reach[ed] into mythology in poems like “Semele Recycled”; into politics, into feminism, especially in her series of poems called “Pro Femina”; into science, the natural world, music, and translations and commentaries on Japanese and Chinese literatures”.
In 1959, she founded Poetry Northwest and served as its editor until 1965. From 1966 to 1970, she served as the first Director of the Literature Program at the National Endowment for the Arts. She received an American Academy of Arts and Letters award, the Frost Medal, the John Masefield Memorial Award, and the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Award. She was a former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and split her time between Sonoma, California, and Paris. Kizer died on October 9, 2014. (Academy of American Poets)
I’ve stumbled on a new poetess I think I’m going to adore! In fact, I’ve bonded with her already because I’m so familiar with the kind of inner turmoil she’s portraying in this poem. Not the anger she writes of at the first of the poem, but how the tone changes from line 10. I think inside I must be like a black hole because so often I feel like a little puppy dog yipping at everyones’ feet for more and more attention. But unlike the sarcasm evident at the end, I just usually end up feeling like a stupid arse and want to crawl off in a corner somewhere and hide. Not exactly where she’s coming from, but I think we must be cousins!
Now, when he and I meet, after all these years,
I say to the bitch inside me, don’t start growling.
He isn’t a trespasser anymore,
Just an old acquaintance tipping his hat.
My voice says, “Nice to see you,”
As the bitch starts to bark hysterically.
He isn’t an enemy now,
Where are your manners, I say, as I say,
“How are the children? They must be growing up.”
At a kind word from him, a look like the old days,
The bitch changes her tone; she begins to whimper.
She wants to snuggle up to him, to cringe.
Down, girl! Keep your distance
Or I’ll give you a taste of the choke-chain.
“Fine, I’m just fine,” I tell him.
She slobbers and grovels.
After all, I am her mistress. She is basically loyal.
It’s just that she remembers how she came running
Each evening, when she heard his step;
How she lay at his feet and looked up adoringly
Though he was absorbed in his paper;
Or, bored with her devotion, ordered her to the kitchen
Until he was ready to play.
But the small careless kindnesses
When he’d had a good day, or a couple of drinks,
Come back to her now, seem more important
Than the casual cruelties, the ultimate dismissal.
“It’s nice to know you are doing so well,” I say.
He couldn’t have taken you with him;
You were too demonstrative, too clumsy,
Not like the well-groomed pets of his new friends.
“Give my regards to your wife,” I say. You gag
As I drag you off by the scruff,
Saying, “Goodbye! Goodbye! Nice to have seen you again.”
Picture Source: PRX