Poetry Rewind: Carolyn Kizer's Yin

Carolyn Kizer's Pulitzer Prize-winning Yin (BOA 1984) is an example that even great books can fall through the cracks. The collection had a difficult journey to publication, being denied by many major publishing houses before small press BOA Editions agreed to pick it up. Yet even after finding success and winning one of the most prestigious literary awards in the country, Yin fell out of print. Though readers can find poems from the book in Kizer's collected work, Cool, Calm, & Collected, that volume is organized by era rather than published books. It is unfortunate a reader cannot experience Yin in its original form, which was carefully constructed and arranged by the poet. 

That said, Yin is a remarkable work, not only using mythology as well translations and imitations of Chinese poetry to consider femininity and love, but also mapping Kizer's place in the history of women. This is perhaps made most clear in the essay, "A Muse," which acts as a grounding point in the center of the book; the piece explores how Kizer's mother worked as both a supporter and an obstacle in her writing career, providing necessary encouragement but a looming shadow. From that essay, a through-line develops that ties together the allegorical love story "Semele Recycled," the erotic "Food of Love," the character  study of Robert Louis Stevenson's wife "Fanny," the meditation on comfort "Afternoon Happiness," and all the pieces in between. What results is a book so fully realized and cohesive that it should have importance similar to Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own or Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior as a fundamental work about what it means to be a woman.

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