Today’s blog post is a writing invitation! Follow me, won’t you, down memory lane? In one graduate course I took during my MA program, our professor assigned us a recitation. Here is a conversation we had on the day mine was due:
Professor: Shanti, are you ready for your recitation?
Professor: What poem will you recite?
“Bitch” by Carolyn Kizer was one of my favorite poems in graduate school. The dramatic situation (or plot of the poem) involves a woman who runs into her ex and remains calm and affable to him. However, she internally experiences an array of emotions, triggered by his appearance. Kizer anthropomorphizes her speaker’s internal feelings by manifesting them as a dog, or the speaker’s inner “bitch.” Here, I’ll read it for you; I cannot recite it anymore since my memory’s gone to sh*t:
What are my favorite parts of this poem? I like the contrast in the speaker’s tone of voice and the emotional reaction of the bitch: “My voice says, ‘Nice to see you,’ / As the bitch starts to bark hysterically.” I also like the range of emotions the bitch experiences. She first reacts to the ex aggressively, and the speaker has to remind her that “He isn’t an enemy now,” but later, “At a kind word from him, a look like the old days, / The bitch changes her tone; she begins to whimper. / She wants to snuggle up to him, to cringe.” At this point, the speaker and the bitch switch stances, as the speaker disciplines: “Down, girl! Keep your distance / Or I’ll give you a taste of the choke-chain. / ‘Fine, I’m just fine,’ I tell him.”
In the next several lines, the speaker explains that “she remembers how she came running / Each evening, when she heard his step; / How she lay at his feet and looked up adoringly.” Despite her devotion, “he was absorbed in his paper” but “the small careless kindnesses / When he’d had a good day, or a couple of drinks / …seem more important / Than the casual cruelties, the ultimate dismissal,” and the speaker must drag the bitch by the scruff “Saying, ‘Goodbye! Goodbye! Nice to have seen you again.’” The speaker’s desire to maintain dignity dominates over the bitch’s desire for the ex. Here, the bitch could really represent the id or a child, wanting this man despite the knowledge of his bad behavior. The speaker has the difficult task of tightening the reigns and escaping, while she still has control.
For the last three years, I have lived with dogs, and although they praise me each morning as if I were the rising sun, they are technically my wife’s dogs. I have lived with my eighteen year old cat (Mouse) for fourteen years. She is very much like a dog, which I hear is typical of the Maine Coon breed. Although she usually resembles royalty, greeting “her” guests as they enter “her” home, she does bestow special blessings on or warnings about some who cross her path. One memorable time she did the latter was when someone I felt “iffy” about came over. Mouse looked up at this person, then looked at me in disbelief (how could I let this disturbance into her home?) and began running around the living room, racing-track style. And although she has never once intentionally hurt me through scratching or biting (even when I’ve had the unfortunate task of bathing her) she ran right up to me, gave me a surprised look, and bit my hand. She pivoted and bolted down the hallway, fluffy tail a blur. I felt as though she had expressed, “You’ve been warned. Do what you will—I’m out!” She has also approved of people, sometimes placing a paw on their shoulder and giving me a knowing look.
I actually didn’t have Mouse when I recited “Bitch,” back in grad school, but I sometimes think of this poem when I see her manifest the good and the bad of what I already know but won’t say or admit.
So, here’s your writing invitation: Write a poem that anthropomorphizes an inner insecurity or a set of mixed emotions. Please share in the comments below. No need to be shy; we’re all friendly here!