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Carolyn Kizer

kizerpav2-400_squareCarolyn 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)

So I stumbled on Carolyn Kizer a couple weeks ago, and I found her work so fascinating I looked at some more of her poetry. It always tickles me when I can find out something about an author’s real life from reading their poetry (biographies SO don’t work the same for me — I want to see what was going on inside them). I ran across a poem of hers that might explain the one I posted on December 2nd.. 😀 (The Bitch) This poem seemed “very long-ago” sounding, wispy, and sad…

Summer near the River

I have carried my pillow to the windowsill
And try to sleep, with my damp arms crossed upon it,
But no breeze stirs the tepid morning.
Only I stir … Come, tease me a little!
With such cold passion, so little teasing play,
How long can we endure our life together?

No use. I put on your long dressing-gown;
The untied sash trails over the dusty floor.
I kneel by the window, prop up your shaving mirror
And pluck my eyebrows.
I don’t care if the robe slides open
Revealing a crescent of belly, a tan thigh.
I can accuse that nonexistent breeze …

I am as monogamous as the North Star,
But I don’t want you to know it. You’d only take advantage.
While you are as fickle as spring sunlight.
All right, sleep! The cat means more to you than I.
I can rouse you, but then you swagger out.
I glimpse you from the window, striding toward the river.

When you return, reeking of fish and beer,
There is salt dew in your hair. Where have you been?
Your clothes weren’t that wrinkled hours ago, when you left.
You couldn’t have loved someone else, after loving me!
I sulk and sigh, dawdling by the window.
Later, when you hold me in your arms
It seems, for a moment, the river ceases flowing.


Picture Source: PRX