Once again, instead of presenting a new poet, this column needs to pause for memorial. We seem to be losing, in short order, our whole “greatest generation” of American poets. Earlier this year it was Maxine Kumin at 88 and now, at 89, Carolyn Kizer. Some readers may remember how Kumin and Kizer resigned in 1998 as Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets to protest the lack of women and minorities in the Academy’s leadership. The Academy took note. One of the first Chancellors to be elected after that was Lucille Clifton, the first African-American Poet Laureate of Maryland.
Most of Kizer’s poems, all of which are bitingly satirical and political, are too long to be reprinted here, but those of you who are not familiar with her work would be well-advised to begin with “Pro Femina,” which can be found in her Cool, Calm and Collected (Copper Canyon Press, (2001).
Galway Kinnell’s death, on October 28th, was announced just a few days ago. Although equally great and also a Pulitzer Prize-winner, his poems couldn’t be more different.They are down to earth, plain-language poems, powerful, strong, afraid of nothing,not even tenderness or faith. He was 87 years old. Like most poets, he often wrote of death, and like some, even considered his own. Here, from Imperfect Thirst (Houghton Mifflin, 1994), is one of his shorter poems:
Some old people become more upset about human foibles than they
did when they were younger—part of getting ready to leave.
For others, human idiocy becomes increasingly precious; they begin to
see in it the state of mind we will have in heaven.
“What about heaven?” I said to Harold, who is ninety-four and lives
in the VA Hospital in Tucson.
He said, “Memory is heaven.”
The physicist emeritus tottering across the campus of Cal Tech
through the hazy sunshine occasionally chuckles to himself.
Yet it has happened to many others, and to you, too, Galway – when
Illness, or unhappiness, or imagining the future wears an
empty place inside us, the idea of paradise elsewhere quickly
Try to read more of these two fine poets as you enjoy your holidays, dear readers. Poetry Monday will be on holiday itself for December, to return in January, 2015.