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National Poetry Month, 2014, Pacific Northwest poet, Carolyn Kizer

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Pacific Northwest poet, Carolyn Kizer, was born in Spokane, Washington in 1925. She shares the same birthday as poet, Emily Dickinson. She once said in an interview for the Paris Review, that her poetry is really about “how people rub against one another and alter one another” (Paris Review, Spring 2000 No. 14)

Kizer has written eight books of poetry, and she won the Pullitzer Prize for her poetry collection, Mermaids in the Basement. Here are several poems that reflect Carolyn Kizer’s Pacific Northwest roots.

The Great Blue Heron
M.A.K., September 1880-September 1955

As I wandered on the beach


I saw the heron standing


Sunk in the tattered wings


He wore as a hunchback’s coat.


Shadow without a shadow,


Hung on invisible wires


From the top of a canvas day,


What scissors cut him out?


Superimposed on a poster


Of summer by the strand


Of a long-decayed resort,


Poised in the dusty light


Some fifteen summers ago;


I wondered, an empty child,


“Heron, whose ghost are you?”
I stood on the beach alone,


In the sudden chill of the burned.


My thought raced up the path.


Pursuing it, I ran


To my mother in the house


And led her to the scene.


The spectral bird was gone.


But her quick eye saw him drifting


Over the highest pines


On vast, unmoving wings.


Could they be those ashen things,


So grounded, unwieldy, ragged,


A pair of broken arms


That were not made for flight?


In the middle of my loss
I realized she knew:


My mother knew what he was.
O great blue heron, now


That the summer house has burned


So many rockets ago,


So many smokes and fires


And beach-lights and water-glow


Reflecting pinwheel and flare:


The old logs hauled away,


The pines and driftwood cleared


From that bare strip of shore


Where dozens of children play;


Now there is only you


Heavy upon my eye.


Why have you followed me here,


Heavy and far away?


You have stood there patiently


For fifteen summers and snows,


Denser than my repose,


Bleaker than any dream,


Waiting upon the day


When, like gray smoke, a vapor


Floating into the sky,


A handful of paper ashes,


My mother would drift away.

“A Poet’s Household”

The stout poet tiptoes


On the lawn.

Surprisingly limber
In his thick sweater


Like a middle-age burglar.
Is the young robin injured?





She bends to feed the geese


Revealing the neck’s white curve


Below her curled hair.


Her husband seems not to watch,


But she shimmers in his poem.





A hush is on the house,


The only noise, a fern,


Rustling in a vase.


On the porch, the fierce poet


Is chanting words to himself.

Listen to the recitation of five of Carolyn Kizer's poems.

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