Kizer’s “The Good Author”

Carolyn Kizer’s poems in the section entitled “The Seventies? of Calm, Cool, and Collected often seem anything but calm and cool. It appears to have been a rather tumultuous time for her, as it was for many of us who grew up then.

Personally, I was rather surprised, and pleased once I’d read it, to find a long prose selection entitled “A Muse,? wherei Kizer describes her rather strained relationship with her mother, ending with.

… My mother died. And then my serious life as a poet began. At last I could write, without pressure, without blackmail, without bargains, without the hot breath of her expectations.

I wrote the poems for her. I still do.

This short section gave me a new perspective on the author, especially when taken together with a later essay on her father,

Though the poems range in tone from a rather sentimental poem dedicated to a daughter who had to suffer through her mother’s ups and downs to my personal favorite, a seven page poem “Running Away From Home? that opens with the line “Most people from Idaho are crazed rednecks.?

However, the overall tone of the section is probably better represented by the tone of this poem:

The Good Author
for Bernard Malamud

Contrary to the views
A few days earlier
Of a fading Irish poet
Who flared into the room
With Rimbaud round his shoulder
But with hair and spirit
Receding, too much the wise
Predator not to know it,
You told us to be good.
Meaning: pure in spirit,
To strive for purity.
“Oh, play as much as you like!
But remember that an author
Is one who labors daily
Putting words to paper,
Not a man who wrote a book,?
You concluded, quietly, gravely.

We were aware as we walked
Through the campus in the snow
Of a game of hare and hound:
We found him chasing her
In tighter and tighter circles,
The innocent one flying
From wily nose and jaws.
Then he cracked the diameter,
And the only rule she knew,
To plunge her to the ground.

We could not save her, nor
Quickly enough turn away,
Fists over ears, lids clenched
From the brilliant agony.
And now your calm tones linger,
But tinctured with her cry.
Though I shall not wed the image
To any word you say.

I must admit that it was the early 70’s before I realized just how predatory some college relationships were when I was shocked to discover that a classmate was sleeping with a professor I liked. Poor naïve me, it turned out that most of my fellow students had long been aware of such goings on.

I’ll have to admit to still holding on to the rather naïve belief that authors should “strive for purity? and am always a little put off when I discover otherwise, put off to the point of questioning just how “wise? they really are.

That doesn’t mean that I’m ready to reject Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea after discovering what a terrible father he was in his son’s essay in Fishing with My Father. However, I’m glad I didn’t know what I know now before I read the book, or I probably would have had a very different reaction to it.

As an ex-teacher I understand how you could fall in love with a student, but it’s hard to see much wisdom in those who purposely prey on the innocent, and I hope to God I never change that view.

One thought on “Kizer’s “The Good Author”

  1. Interesting, how a failure of sensitivity to the humanity of others signals a lack of wisdom. Even people like Pound and Heidegger, obviously brilliant men, fall short. We all have our appetites and they’re sometimes our gods; St. Therese recommended going somewhere quiet, looking inward, and naming them. It’s not surprising to see this failing in politicians who attain position through cunning, guile, and force, but religious people, philosophers, and writers, “Good Authors,” live, supposedly, by study of human experience and the failure of empathy is surprising and hurtful. It’s wise to hope to God we don’t lose our concern for others. Circumstance has a part; after the disaster in New Orleans, I heard someone say the distance between civilization and chaos is 7 meals.

What do you think?