Kizer, Carolyn (Ashley)

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KIZER, Carolyn (Ashley)

Nationality: American. Born: Spokane, Washington, 10 December 1925. Education: Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York, B.A. 1945; Columbia University, New York, 1945–46; University of Washington, Seattle, 1946–47, 1953–54. Family: Married 1) Charles Stimson Bullitt in 1948 (divorced 1954), two daughters and one son;2) John Marshall Woodbridge in 1975. Career: Founding editor, Poetry Northwest, Seattle, 1959–65; State Department specialist in Pakistan, 1964–65; director of literary programs, National Endowment for the Arts, 1966–70; lecturer or poet-in-residence, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1970–74, Washington University, St. Louis, 1971, Barnard College, New York, 1972, Ohio University, Athens, 1974, University of Iowa, Iowa City, 1975, Centre College, Danville, Kentucky, 1979, Eastern Washington University, Cheney, 1980, University of Cincinnati, Ohio, 1981, University of Louisville, Kentucky, 1982, State University of New York, Albany, 1982, Columbia School of Arts, New York, 1982, and Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, 1983; acting director of the graduate writing program, Columbia University, New York, 1972; professor, University of Maryland, College Park, 1976–77; professor of poetry, Stanford University, California, 1986; senior fellow in the humanities, Princeton University, New Jersey, 1986; professor, University of Arizona, Tucson, 1989, 1990; visiting professor, University of California, Davis, 1991; Coal Royalty chair, University of Alabama, 1995. Awards: Governor's award, State of Washington, 1965, 1985, 1995, 1998; Masefield prize, Poetry Society of America, 1983; American Academy award, 1985; Pulitzer prize, 1985; Theodore Roethke prize; Poetry Society of America Frost Medal, 1988; Silver medal, Commonwealth Club, 1997; Aiken Taylor prize, Sewanee Review, 1998. D.Litt.: Whitman College, Walla Walla, Washington, 1986; Mills College, Oakland, California, 1989; St. Andrews College, Laurinberg, North Carolina; Washington State University, Pullman. Address: 19772 8th Street East, Sonoma, California 95476, U.S.A.



Poems. Portland, Oregon, Portland Art Museum, 1959.

The Ungrateful Garden. Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1961.

Five Poets of the Pacific Northwest, with others, edited by Robin Skelton. Seattle, University of Washington Press, 1964.

Knock upon Silence. New York, Doubleday, 1965.

Midnight Was My Cry: New and Selected Poems. New York, Doubleday, 1971.

Mermaids in the Basement: Poems for Women. Port Townsend, Washington, Copper Canyon Press, 1984.

Yin. Brockport, New York, Boa, 1984.

The Nearness of You: Poems for Men. Port Townsend, Washington, Copper Canyon Press, 1986.

Harping On: Poems 1985–1995. Port Townsend, Washington, Copper Canyon Press, 1996.

Great Poems by Women. Cheney, Washington, Eastern Washington University Press, 1997.

Pro Femina. Kansas City, Missouri, BkMk Press, 1999.

The Ungrateful Garden. Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1999.

Recording: An Ear to the Earth, Watershed, 1977.


Proses: Essays on Poets & Poetry. Port Townsend, Washington, Copper Canyon Press, 1994.

Editor, with Elaine Dallman and Barbara Gelpi, Woman Poet—The West. Reno, Nevada, Women-in-Literature, 1980.

Editor, The Essential John Clare. Hopewell, New Jersey, Ecco Press, 1993.

Editor, 100 Great Poems by Women: A Golden Ecco Anthology. Hopewell, New Jersey, Ecco Press, 1995.

Editor, Picking and Choosing: Essays on Prose. Cheney, Washington, Eastern Washington University Press, 1995.

Editor, American Spirituals, by Jeffrey Greene. Boston, Northeastern University Press, 1998.

Translator, Carrying Over. Port Townsend, Washington, Copper Canyon Press, 1988.


Manuscript Collection: Abbott Library, Buffalo, New York.

Critical Studies: An Answering Music—On the Poetry of Carolyn Kizer edited by David Rigsbee, Boston, Ford Brown & Co., 1990; "Franklin Street Days: Carolyn Kizer in North Carolina, 1970–1974" by Ronald H. Bayes, in Pembroke (Pembroke, North Carolina), 23, 1991; "Passwords at the Boundary: Carolyn Kizer's Poetry" by Henry Taylor, in Hollins Critic (Hollins College, Virginia), 34(3), 1997; "Kizer's 'The Great Blue Heron'" by Derek T. Leuenberger, in Explicator (Washington, D.C.), 57(2), winter 1999.

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Carolyn Kizer works in terms of the twinned tensions of life, those central paradoxes so directly felt by women. She poses the problem of the woman poet boldly in her remarkable "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
   Gliding below her lake or sea,
   Are left, long-staring after her
   Narcissists by necessity …

Mother and muse, Kizer can write tenderly of her own mother, who taught her to love nature even at its most loathsome, "a whole, wild, lost, betrayed and secret life / Among its dens and burrows." Although she has a poem titled "Not Writing Poetry about Children," such poems are everywhere in her work. So are cats, symbols of the female condition, as in "A Widow in Wintertime":

   To live well enough alone, and not to dream
   Of grappling in the snow, claws plunged in fur,
   Or waken in a caterwaul of dying.

The daring and diffidence of womanhood are celebrated in poems of companionship like "For Jan, In Bar Maria." But Kizer's most constant, resonant theme is love and loss, analyzed in detail in the sequence "A Month in Summer." The work ends with a quotation from Bashō, and it is in the fatalism of Japanese civilization that Kizer finds a refuge and an artistic remedy for her womanly woes: "'O love long gone, it is raining in our room.' / So I memorize these lines, without salutation, without close." One of the best woman poets around, she is profoundly committed to the process of life, however painful.

The twinned tensions of male and female are explored systematically in later volumes, including Mermaids in the Basement, subtitled Poems for Women, and its complement, The Nearness of You: Poems for Men. Here old and new commingle, while between the works is Yin, which includes two wonderful autobiographical reveries, "Running Away from Home" and "Exodus." In an era when a shrill feminism threatens to tilt the scales of past injustice, Kizer's view of the sexual universe contains polarity without hostility.

With like thrift Kizer has gathered her translations in Carrying Over. Urdu, Macedonian, and Yiddish testify to the diversity of her interests, but there also are translations from the great Tang poet Tu Fu, as well as of the passionate love poems of the Chinese woman poet Shu Ting, born in 1952. Old and young, past and present, yin and yang—Kizer has kept faith with her interests over several decades, and she can say with Chaucer's Criseyde that "I am my owne woman, wel at ese" in the dance of the dualities.

—John Montague