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Carolyn Kizer was an influential American poet, born on December 10, 1925, in Spokane, Washington. She grew up in a politically progressive family, where her father, a lawyer, and her mother, a professor, encouraged her intellectual pursuits. Kizer's poetry is known for its technical mastery, intellectual depth, wit, and feminist themes. She passed away on October 9, 2014.

Literary Background

Carolyn Kizer's literary career is marked by her adept use of form and a voice that ranges from the intimately confessional to the broadly political. Her early exposure to poetry and her education, which included a stint at Columbia University where she studied with poet Theodore Roethke, influenced her development as a poet.

Early Influences

Kizer’s formative years were influenced by her liberal upbringing and her education. The poets of the English Romantic tradition, as well as modernist voices like T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, contributed to the foundation of her style. She was also deeply affected by Chinese poetry, which she encountered in depth when she was awarded a fellowship to study in Pakistan, and which she translated throughout her career.

Poetic Schools or Movements

While not part of a formal school or movement, Kizer's work is often associated with the feminist poetry movement of the 1960s and 1970s due to her outspoken voice on issues of gender and her exploration of women's experiences. However, her use of traditional forms and structures also aligns her with formalist poets.

Poetic Oeuvre

Kizer's body of work is distinguished by its thematic diversity and formal precision. She wrote a range of poems, from those that addressed personal matters to poems that grappled with social and political issues. She was also known for her sharp wit and often incisive commentary on the roles and expectations of women in society. Her most celebrated volumes include "Yin" (1984), which won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, and features a series of poems that explore female experiences from mythological and contemporary perspectives.

Themes in Kizer’s poetry include:

*Feminism and Gender Roles: Kizer’s poems frequently engage with themes of feminism, exploring the lives, histories, and psychologies of women.

*Love and Human Relationships: Her work delves into the complexities of love and relationships, both familial and romantic.

*Political and Social Commentary: Kizer did not shy away from addressing political issues, often infusing her work with a strong sense of social justice.

*Translation and Cultural Exchange: Her translations of Chinese poetry and her own original work often reflect an interest in cross-cultural communication and understanding.


Carolyn Kizer’s influence is felt in the feminist poetry movement and beyond. Her ability to marry form with free expression provided a model for subsequent generations of poets. Her work as the first director of the Literature Program at the National Endowment for the Arts, a position she held from 1966 to 1970, also helped shape the landscape of American poetry through her advocacy for other poets and for poetry as a public good.


Throughout her career, Kizer received numerous honors and awards, including the aforementioned Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, an honor that acknowledged her contributions to the art form and highlighted the significance of her work.


Carolyn Kizer's legacy lies in her unique ability to blend technical skill with incisive content. Her poetry is characterized by a sense of authority and confidence, whether she is exploring intimate emotions or commenting on the broader societal landscape. Her voice remains an essential one in American poetry, offering both a reflection and a critique of the world she lived in. Her sharp wit, compassionate insight, and uncompromising quality continue to influence poets and readers alike.

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