Carolyn Kizer’s Voice: A Student’s View

I am over-the-moon happy that Poetry Northwest is celebrating my friend and mentor, Carolyn Kizer. I am blessed to have had her in my life at Eastern Washington University, where I attended evening grad school and where she served as the guest instructor of poetry workshops. I have loved her since 1989 and own every book she’s written, each lovingly inscribed with some personal notation suited to the time and events of our meetings.

Not enough people understand just how kind and funny she is. I remember, once, when several wickedly talented author/instructors joined Carolyn’s class and were all foot-to-foot packed together at one table, she held up a student’s prose poem—every sentence prefaced with the “eff” word—and calmly said: “Well, what we have here is a great poem about salmonberries. We just need to get rid of a bucketful of ‘eff-its.’” After she edited out every four-letter offense it was quite a lovely poem, and our mixed group was a riot of laughter. In Carolyn’s classroom, all writing was treated with dignity served up with a side of humor.

Happily for me, Carolyn was also often present at the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, which I attended every July for years. Whenever her master class was in progress chortles echoed down the hall as rough diamond-poems were polished with care and wit. The most endearing memory I have of Carolyn comes from those days—a late evening get-together, in which we were bidding farewell at conference’s end. Hugs abounded; books were signed. Wine and dark chocolate were there for solace. Then, one sweet soul sat down at the piano and started playing requests (thank God for her childhood music teacher!). Carolyn walked over to the piano and we all began to sing old tunes. Oh, but Carolyn’s memory was the best. She knew beautiful songs and bawdy songs, and we swiftly picked up her melodies and lyrics. Amazingly, the piano player/fiction writer knew every note, too, and she received The Golden Kizer Hug—an immense reward.

Boy, did Carolyn sing that evening! It was a gorgeous, wacky night, with a full moon, a tuned piano, and a room full of wild, sweet voices. Is Carolyn brilliant? Of course. She also has a deep, delicious laugh, and made memories for all of us that hot July night. She loves with a passion, and is treasured.

–Barbara Baldwin

Barbara Baldwin is a poet/online English tutor in Spokane, Washington, and has just finished a stint reviewing for New Pages.Com, while studying American Sign Language and editing a new manuscript. Work has appeared in The Snail Mail Review, FugueSpeakeasy, The Lullwater Review, Plainsong, and elsewhere.