About the author
Reprint from Chico Enterprise-Record, Nov. 3, 1978:
Alison Zier: Her Poetry Reflects Her Life
The house was quiet on Mondays.
The piano remains untouched in the living room. The television is turned off. The family dines on soup and sandwiches and father takes the children out for the evening.
And from early morning until around midnight, Alison Zier sits in the stillness and writes.
Mrs. Zier, a Chico poet, rarely gives up her writing day. And she gets full support from her husband, Don, and their four children.
She says she finds that working one day a week is the best method for her because otherwise, "my few hours a day to write would be whittled away by circumstances."
She started writing seriously 11 years ago when her third child was 3 months old and the repetition of her life convinced her that "if I didn't do something for myself now, I never would."
Poetry seemed to be the answer.
The seed was planted at an early age. When Mrs. Zier was 5 years old, her mother gave her a book of poetry with a cardboard cover. "It was a very good collection of poetry," she recalls, "I was very proud of it because it was mine and I didn't have very many books."
When she began writing, she says, she didn't know much about craftsmanship or language. In fact, she says, she was using 19-century rhythms. But she struggled on. "I just knew poetry was the right thing."
She studied under Richard Hugo and Madeline DeFrees at the University of Montana, Missoula, and feels that an apprenticeship is the ideal way to learn.
For a while she patterned her poetry after Hugo's, but after moving away, she "found her own voice."
It wasn't until she came to Chico seven years ago and became involved with the women's movement that she found an audience -- one that could relate to her poems.
She tends to draw from past experiences. "I look toward the past. This is where my poetry comes from," she says.
In her recently published book, The Middle Aged Princess and the Frog, poems with titles like "Divorce," "Growing Up in Woolworth's," and "'50s Women" reflect some of her own experiences.
"My poetry is very revealing and tells a great deal about me," she says.
But the exposure doesn't seem to bother her. "Being open is my style. Being revealed in poetry makes me feel more at ease with people. They know me and accept me for what I am. I don't feel vulnerable," she says.
Her favorite poet is Robert Lowell, whose style, she feels, is similar to her own. Other favorites are Sylvia Plath and Adrienne Rich, whom Mrs. Zier calls one of the "most articulate and gifted poets in the women's movement."
Right now she is working on a book-length poem about the experiences of a woman involved in the feminist movement. However, her ambition doesn't stop there. She's also like to write a gothic novel. She enjoys reading them herself and sees a good market for them.
Besides, she freely admits, she'd like to earn some money through writing and the added benefit of a large audience is especially enticing.
Alison Zier is not a poet who hides her work in the closet. She loves an audience.
Last summer she was involved in the Velveeta Readings, a series held at LaSalle's. The large turnouts for each reading suited her just fine. "I love lots of people listening," she says.
The process of writing is therapeutic for her, even though she writes rather slowly. But that's improving. "I don't have to stumble as much. This is what it means to develop a style."
There was a time for about three years when she was unable to write.
Looking back, she thinks it was caused by focusing on writing and being less involved in other activities. She sees now that she needed material and experiences to draw from and although it was an unconscious decision, she had become "lopsided."
"Shutting yourself away to write is a mistake," she says, adding that her writing improved when she increased her activity.
There is always room for growth in writing, she says.
"Poets and any other writers have to grow. When you master one thing, go on and try something else."
Her own growth is toward longer, more complex material.
Mrs. Zier writes in longhand in a tiny office at the back of her house surrounded by shelves of books. Her husband types her material for her and also designed the cover for her book.
The whole book, in fact, was a joint venture among friends. Larry Jackson of Heidelberg Graphics published it, and artist friend illustrated it and her poet friends sent brief critiques for the back cover.
It is difficult for a poet to be known outside of her own hometown, says Mrs. Zier. Right now, she and Jackson are trying to get the book into Bay Area bookstores. Getting a small-press book on the market really comes down to a personal effort, she says.
Mrs. Zier was born and raised in Montana and went to college for two years at the University of Chicago, worked in New York, San Francisco and Colorado and spent six years on a cattle ranch in British Columbia.
Right now she is finishing her education at Chico State University where she is majoring in English. She only goes part-time though; her writing and family comes first.
She sees herself as a traditional woman in may ways. "My husband and my family are the core of my life." --Kathy Dixon, E-R staff writer
Comments by the publisher
I went to one of my first local poetry readings when Alison Zier happened to be the guest. She had the audience laughing and crying. No poet had moved me in so many directions and kept my undivided attention as she did. After attending some of her potluck dinners when she invited out-of-town poets to her house before they read at the Chico Literary Guild (held at CSU, Chico), I decided I wanted to publish her work. Her enthusiasm for poetry was contagious.
Her husband, Don, offered to help with the production of Alison's book and had the idea for the cover. I typeset the book using an IBM Selectric, and he pasted the copy for me to use for making plates and printing on a small printing press. A couple months later I was introducing the woman who inspired me, to a reading at the Literary Guild where she signed copies of her new book, The Middle Aged Princess and the Frog. It's a must read for any student of poetry from the '70s and is a study that is timeless today.
Alison also worked with organizing Chico literary events off campus during the late '70s and early '80s including a festival of readings and events at the CARD center, a reading by Mary Norbert Korte at Perche No, and the Velveeta Readings at La Salle's Restaurant and Bar in Chico-- a summertime series on Wednesday nights which lasted three years.
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