The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The speaker of Carolyn Kizer’s “Bitch” provides a satiric account of a typical encounter between her and a former lover during the unspecified period since the end of their relationship. In a single, thirty-four-line stanza, the speaker engages in a comic monologue that displays a quintessentially ironic duality: the speaker’s two simultaneous but divergent dialogues, one consisting of the speaker’s external conversation with her former lover and the other of silent admonitions, threats, and explanations to her inner self, represented in the poem as a female dog, or “bitch.”

Over the course of the monologue, the reader learns the range of the speaker’s intensely ambivalent feelings toward the ex-lover, from vicious hostility to cowed devotion to dismissive self-deprecation. Throughout the conversation with the ex-lover, the speaker masks her true feelings with unfailing politeness.

The speaker’s initial hostility whenever she and her former lover meet reveals itself in the immediate warning she gives to “the bitch inside [her]” not to start “growling”; while once the man may have been a “trespasser,” she says, he is now merely an “old acquaintance.” The conflicting feelings suggested by this conversation with her inner self are quickly dramatized: The speaker offers a first pleasantry, but “the bitch starts to bark hysterically.” However, as the pleasantries continue, “a kind word” from the man...

(The entire section is 444 words.)