Biography of Carolyn Kizer
Carolyn Ashley Kizer is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet of the Pacific Northwest whose works reflect her feminism.
"Kizer reaches 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," according to an article on Kizer at the Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest Web site.
Kizer was born in Spokane, Washington, the daughter of a socially prominent Spokane couple,
Her father, Benjamin Hamilton Kizer, was 45 when she was born. Her mother, Mabel Ashley Kizer, was a professor of biology who had received her doctorate from Stanford University.
Kizer was once asked if she agreed with a description of her father as someone who "came across as supremely structured, intelligent, polite but always somewhat remote". Her reply: "Add 'authoritarian and severe', and you get a pretty good approximation of how he appeared to that stranger, his child". At times, she related, her father gave her the same "viscera-shriveling" voice she heard him use later on "members of the House Un-American Activities Committee and other villains of the 50’s, to even more devastating effect", and, she added, "I almost forgave him."
After graduating from Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane, she went on to get her bachelor's degree from Sarah Lawrence College (where she studied comparative mythologies with Joseph Campbell) in 1945 and study as a graduate at both Columbia University (1945–46) and the University of Washington (1946–47).
She then moved back to Washington state, married Stimson Bullitt, from a wealthy and influential Seattle family, had three children and divorced. In 1954 she enrolled in a creative writing workshop run by poet Theodore Roethke. "Kizer had three small kids, a big house on North Capitol Hill, enough money to get by and more than enough talent and determination. And although one of her poems had been published in The New Yorker when she was 17, she remembers that she needed a nudge from Roethke to get serious."
In 1959, she helped found Poetry Northwest and served as its editor until 1965.
She then became a "Specialist in Literature" for the U.S. State Department in Pakistan from 1965–1966, during which time she taught for several months in that country. In 1966 she became the first director of Literary Programs for the newly created National Endowment for the Arts. She resigned that post in 1970, when the N.E.A. chairman, Roger L. Stevens, was fired by President Richard Nixon. She was a consultant to the N.E.A. for the following year.
In the 1970s and 1980s, she held appointments as poet-in-residence or lecturer at universities across the country, including Columbia, Stanford, Princeton, San Jose State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has been a visiting writer at literary conferences and events across the country, as well as in Dublin, Ireland, and Paris. Kizer was also a member of the faculty of the Iowa Writer's Workshop.
She was appointed to the post of Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 1995, but resigned three years later to protest the absence of women and minorities on the governing board.
Kizer is married to the architect-historian, John Marshall Woodbridge. When she is not teaching and lecturing, she divides her time between their home in Sonoma, California and their apartment in Paris.
Carolyn Kizer's Works:
Cool, Calm & Collected: Poems 1960-2000 (Copper Canyon Press, 2001)
Pro Femina: A Poem (BkMk Press, 2000)
Harping On: Poems 1985-1995 (Copper Canyon Press, 1996)
The Nearness of You (Copper Canyon Press, 1986)
Yin (1984), which won the Pulitzer Prize
Mermaids in the Basement: Poems for Women (Copper Canyon Press, 1984)
Midnight Was My Cry: New and Selected Poems (1971)
Knock Upon Silence (1965)
The Ungrateful Garden (1961)
Picking and Choosing: Prose on Prose (1995),
Proses: Essays on Poets and Poetry (Copper Canyon Press, 1993)
Carrying Over: Translations from Chinese, Urdu, Macedonian, Hebrew and French-African (Copper Canyon Press, 1986)
Edited by Kizer
100 Great Poems by Women (1995)
The Essential Clare (1992)
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Carolyn Kizer Poems
Arms and the girl I sing - O rare arms that are braceleted and white and bare arms that were lovely Helen's, in whose name
My mother-- preferring the strange to the tame: Dove-note, bone marrow, deer dung, Frog's belly distended with finny young, Leaf-mould wilderness, hare-bell, toadstool,
A Poet's Household
1 The stout poet tiptoes On the lawn. Surprisingly limber
For more than thirty years we hadn't met. I remembered the bright query of your face, That single-minded look,intense and stern, Yet most important -how could I forget?-
On A Line From Valéry (The Gulf War)
The whole green sky is dying.The last tree flares With a great burst of supernatural rose Under a canopy of poisonous airs.
for Maxine Kumin Where did these enormous children come from, More ladylike than we have ever been?
The Ungrateful Garden
Midas watched the golden crust That formed over his steaming sores, Hugged his agues, loved his lust, But damned to hell the out-of-doors
For Ann London As you described your mastectomy in calm detail and bared your chest so I might see
A Song For Muriel
No-one explains me because There is nothing to explain. It's all right here Very clear.
Days Of 1986
He was believed by his peers to be an important poet, But his erotic obsession, condemned and strictly forbidden, Compromised his standing, and led to his ruin.
When from his cave, young Mao in his youthful mind A work to renew old China first designed, Then he alone interpreted the law, and from tradtional fountains scorned to draw:
A Muse Of Water
We who must act as handmaidens To our own goddess, turn too fast, Trip on our hems, to glimpse the muse
based on themes in the Tzu Yeh The moonlight on my bed keeps me awake; Living alone now, aware of the voices of evening, A child weeping at nightmares, the faint love-cries of a woman, Everything tinged by terror or nostalgia. No heavy, impassive back to nudge with one foot While coaxing, "Wake up and hold me," When the moon's creamy beauty is transformed Into a map of impersonal desolation. . But, restless in this mock dawn of moonlight. That so chills the spirit, I alter our history: You were never able to lie quite peacefully at my side, Not the night through. Always withholding something. Awake before morning, restless and uneasy, Trying not to disturb me, you would leave my bed While I lay there rigidly, feigning sleep. Still - the night was nearly over, the light not as cold As a full cup of moonlight. And there were the lovely times when, to the skies' cold No You cried to me, Yes! Impaled me with affirmation. Now, when I call out in fear, not in love, there is no answer. Nothing speaks in the dark but the distant voices, A child with the moon on his face, a dog's hollow cadence.
The poets are going home now, After the years of exile, After the northern climates Where they worked, lectured, remembered,
Arms and the girl I sing - O rare
arms that are braceleted and white and bare
arms that were lovely Helen's, in whose name
Greek slaughtered Trojan. Helen was to blame.
Scape-nanny call her; wars for turf
and profit don't sound glamorous enough.