Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Carolyn Kizer has been frequently described by critics as a poet heavily influenced by her own, personal, background; when her writing demands a paradigm, she assembles it from the details of her own life. Then, deftly, the structured personal narratives are exaggerated and expanded into situations that can be described only as commonly experienced and, even, universal. In “For Sappho: After Sappho,” Kizer depicts her own discomfort with her somewhat overbearing mother’s insistence on her daughter’s creative development in the face of her evolving individuality: Kizer becomes Sappho herself and her mother the ubiquitous Aphrodite whose demands for “a speaking instrument” forces her daughter’s dedication to the writer’s craft, which, eventually, became her only emotional outlet: “breath immortal/ the words nothing/ articulate poems/ not pertinent the breath/ everything.” These images, although striking in their personal relation to Kizer’s life, interact and merge into a larger perception of the power of a somewhat Freudian, devouring maternity over an emergent filial rebelliousness. Every daughter can see the essence of female rebellion from maternal, or societal, domination. Hence, Kizer’s personal becomes a female universal; sexual exile and humiliation, loneliness, and renunciation of all pleasures as the punishment for a creative writer’s life. Yin, the volume in which “For Sappho: After Sappho” was originally collected...

(The entire section is 435 words.)