8th Annual Literary Festival
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The Mace & Crown, Thursday, October 17, 1985

ODU hosts Pulitzer Prize winner

Diane Miller

     Pulitzer Prize winner Carolyn Kizer opened her Literary Festival reading Thursday in Webb Center with "To an Unknown Poet." She said she wrote it to remind her not to let her success go to her head.
Kizer's books include Pulitzer Prize winner Yin: New Poems, The Ungrateful Garden, Mermaids in the Basement and Knock Upon Silence.
      Kizer, at one point in the program, apologized for her strained voice. "This is the end of the trail, so you're getting the shards and fragments of the poet, I'm afraid You should see me when I'm really good." But if audience reaction is any indication Kizer was "really good." The audience seemed to be engrossed by her work and laughed often at her humor. After her opening, Kizer read a couple poems that she had written for other writers. She read "Horseback", written for fiction writer Ray Carver, and "Race Relations", written for poet Dennis Brutus.
      Before reading "Race Relations", Kizer mentioned that she had attended a recent antiapartheid rally at Berkley. She said she was really pleased that rallies are being held again after a ten year absence. She told Berkley students, "Thank God you're back alive again!"
      After reading her poems dedicated to fellow writers, Kizer read poems about children. She said she did not write about children in the beginning of her career, but waited until her own were grown.
      One of her poems about children is based on her childhood fascination with a name. As a little girl, she admired the name of a Gothic author, Thomas Love Peacock, and her poem expresses her childish delight. Kizer, however, did not read the poem in public after she wrote it. She didn't think it was appropriate because the child in the poem is "sitting on the pot." However, she has since heard other people read it in public, so she decided to share "What Is In A Name" with her audience at ODU.
      She called the poem "Children" a "schizophrenic piece." The disillusioned parent in the poem asks, "What good are children anyhow?...They never finish anything, not a book, not a school." According to Kizer, the poem is schizophrenic because younger people think it is funny while their older peers are not as amused.
      Her next selections were from her collection of feminist poems. "A Widow in Wintertime" and "Bitch" both deal with a woman's ambivalent feelings about men.
      The final poems were inspired by Kizer's two marriages. "Threatening Letter" mocks her first husband's plans to write a biography. She warns him to watch what he writes because she is already a published author and she can retaliate if he provokes her. In the poem, she suggests that he name the book "My Non-Life."
      The poem "Afternoon Happiness" is a brighter piece. Kizer calls it "adorable." It was a Christmas gift to her second husband because he was disappointed that she had not written a poem about him after they were married. After she presented him with the poem she claims she had misgivings, but he cried after he read it. "I'm not sure why he burst into tears," said Kizer, "but anyway that's his problem."
      Kizer read one other poem Thursday afternoon, It was a poem about lentil soup, entitled "Mud Soup." Some of her friends wanted a poem about cooking, so she wrote a poem about a cook who works diligently to prepare a lentil soup only to have it look and taste like mud. The poet comes to the conclusion that it would be better to "purchase Campbells, just add the water and concentrate on poetry."