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.
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,
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?-