Although Carolyn Kizer has asserted that her poems are “very clear” and lacking in “interesting ambiguities that appeal to the critical mind,” a number of them show considerable complexity of style, tone, and subject. Her poems based on Greek myth are an example of one kind of complexity, a complexity that has irritated at least some readers, who wish that she would express herself directly, without using myth. To this complaint, Kizer would undoubtedly respond first by pointing to a large number of her poems in which she does express herself quite directly and second by observing that not everything can or should be so expressed. As Robert Frost said in a talk titled “Education by Poetry,” “Poetry provides the one permissible way of saying one thing and meaning another. People say, ’why don’t you say what you mean?’ We never do that . . . being all of us too much poets. We like to talk in parables and in hints and in indirections.” With characteristic insight, Kizer observes that people need to use metaphor, to speak of one thing in terms of another, because “the metaphor, like love,/ Springs from the very separateness of things.” Additionally, she has spoken of the need to transform grim or painful experience by imposing a form on it through imagination and language.
The Ungrateful Garden
Not all of Kizer’s poems that use myth are difficult and obscure. The title poem in The Ungrateful Garden uses...
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