Tomi Wiley (Autumn 2014)
A common misconception is that poetry is about love: to woo, cajole, herald and exalt. And it can be, perhaps often should be, illuminating all love’s many faces.
But In Marilyn Kallet’s poetry, there is love, but also the unspooling and reassembling of myth, scorn for an ill-timed run-in with law enforcement, and there are laments on leaving France. And sex. Lots and lots of sex and sensuality: love, lust, and the loss which lies within.
Marilyn breathes the heady dusk of lust and longing into a very many of her poems, infusing her own joie de vivre into each lush syllable, every luscious line. Eavesdropping on conversations between characters in Dante’s Inferno and various gods and goddesses was the inspiration for her latest poetry collection, The Love That Moves Me. These days Beatrice and Dante find themselves in France, Indiana, and in East Tennessee. The collection of new and previously published poems ranges from the epic, reimagined love stories of these literary legends to Holocaust survivors hiding out in Auvillar, France; the famed lovers bicker over NASCAR and encounter one especially iconic THP Trooper. Characters journey through the Underworld and emerge on the other side battered and smoky, but ultimately triumphant. “Brash and sassy, Marilyn roars in, pulling in her wake Baudelaire, Dante, old lovers, dead parents, Eurydice, Beatrice—a whole cast and chorus,” writes acclaimed, award-winning poet Alice Friman about The Love That Moves Me. “Embracing myth, The Holocaust, both hemispheres, and Charles Darwin with a headache, this is one big book.”
It is a big book inspired in a big way by Marilyn’s yearly trips to France, where the roses are lush and luminous in the gloaming of a sky smeared a blue many people in her native Knoxville, Tennessee, have never seen. Each May, as pilgrims thread through the tiny medieval village on their way to Santiago de Compostela, Marilyn joins poets and writers in a town consistently voted “one of the most beautiful villages in France” for a week of poetry, wine, rest, and rejuvenation.
“Auvillar is located on the Garonne River, and its greenish waters tell stories,” says poet Jessie Janeshek, a former student of Marilyn’s, who has joined Marilyn twice in Auvillar. “At Marilyn’s urging, we let the river become part of our work. This was beautifully useful to me, as the river and other physical aspects of the town of Auvillar enabled me to write poems that I couldn’t write anywhere else. Several of the poems have been published, and they always seem to be well received, more proof that the Auvillar experience is invaluable to writers.”
Marilyn has been a faculty member at UTK for over 30 years and was named the new Chair of the Dr. Nancy Moore Goslee Professorship, a distinction which focuses on Romantic literature. She loves good bourbon, French wine, and cheese, and––unlike many poets (and writers in general)––she embraces and deftly utilizes our burgeoning society linked mainly in a virtual universe, even though she prefers the hustle and grit of travel, and all the movement of body travel entails.
Marilyn has published more than a dozen books of poems in English, also books of poems she translated into English, many essays, and even children’s books. But it’s her earthy, surreal poetry that has broken open fissures in the spirit of readers around the world who quickly become fans who share her piercing, honest work with others.
“Marilyn Kallet’s Circe, After Hours shines with a high intensity light into the underground of ordinary lives, creating bridges between the North and the South,” remarked Pulitzer Prize winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa. “America and Europe, as well as a marriage between the brain’s left and right hemispheres—reason and passion. In this marvelous collection, the process of art illuminates life’s path.”
Born in Alabama and raised in New York, Marilyn has lived in Knoxville with her husband, Dr. Louis Gross, for over three decades. Lou is Director of Nimbios, the National Institute for Math and Biological Sciences at UT; he is also Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. They have one daughter, Heather, who is an editor at CNN.com; she's an alum of North Carolina School of the Arts, Northwestern University, and Medill School of Journalism.
Both her husband and daughter are acknowledged and thanked for inspiration in Marilyn’s new collection of poems, The Love That Moves Me, and––in Heather’s case––thanked for her role as copy editor.
Marilyn’s latest collection is connected by love stories, mythology, and souls who return, blinking and care-worn from journeys to the underworld, however, her own history is entwined with the less mystical Knoxville and the University of Tennessee. Beginning as an undergraduate advisor, she is currently the director of the Creative Writing department, an advisor for the school’s national literature magazine, Grist, and also a recipient of UT’s Faculty Award for Academic Outreach in the College of Arts and Sciences for her work with the Brian M. Conley Young Writers’ Institute (YWI). The YWI event, held each March at the UT campus, includes many local high school writers and teachers in search of guidance and support. “Teens that show up on a Saturday morning at UT are writers,” Marilyn says, “just younger.”
Between teaching, advising, and traveling to France and around the world for readings and workshops, Marilyn still takes time out to advocate and promote poets and writers in East Tennessee. She is a connoisseur of conversation, hosting visiting poets and introducing them to her ever-widening circle of talented writerly friends during dinners, readings, and cozy nights in her own home. When asked, often at such glimmering get-togethers, how she gets inspiration for her prolific poetry, she has been known to say, “Sometimes it falls on my head like pollen.” In my opinion, her poems do not fall, but rise all the way from incisive insight of the mundane to the heights of the very breath of the gods.
How I Met Marilyn
As an undergraduate in the creative writing program at UT in the late ‘90s, I trembled in my seat the first time I met with Marilyn Kallet. She was assigned as my advisor, when I was (what I think of now) little more than a child. I watched Marilyn's swirling, captivating form settle behind her desk across from me, flick her sheath of black hair over her shoulder, and focus those piercing eyes on me. It was then our bond formed and, years and many career changes later, I would contact her out of the blue to ask for a letter of recommendation to the Peabody Academy at Vanderbilt University. I never dreamed she would remember me, much less agree to it; but she did, and from that point (my, was that a decade ago?) we have built a friendship that I am grateful for and rejoice in every single day. Marilyn has introduced me to a number of people who have shaped my life, built my character as a poet and a woman, and she convinced me to join her troop in Auvillar, France, a journey which changed my life in every way possible. Marilyn even traveled to my wedding two years ago and read one of her poems: if only for a few heartbeats, her recitation––warm, real, sultry and heartfelt––remains one of the most succulent interludes of my life. And I know I’m not the only one: more than a few people present at my wedding contacted me after, asking how they could get a copy of that poem.
About the Poet, Marilyn Kallet:
About the Artist, Ria :
The painting which graces this page and the cover of this issue is entitled "Red Passion."
Ria Nieswaag (born 1950) lives and works in Delft, The Netherlands.
From 1984-1988 she was trained as Creative Therapist in Zeist. She combined her activities as creative therapist and artist until 1994 when she definitely chose for the career of an artist. This decision resulted in an assignment by Rijkswaterstaat (1998), the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water, on the occasion of its 200th birthday. Queen Beatrix was present at the opening of the exhibition. A book consisting of the paintings Ria made for the Ministry was published: ‘17 schilderijen, Nederland als kunstwerk’ (17 paintings, the Netherlands as a piece of art).
From 1995 onwards Ria has been exhibiting in distinguished galleries in the Netherlands as well as abroad (o.a. Argentina, Brazil, MASC for the organisation ‘Paint a Future’).
In 2006 a small book of Ria’s paintings was published: Ria Nieswaag, Paintings 2005-2006 (a choice); ISBN:13 978-90-810765-1-7
From December 2008 to February 2009 an overview exhibition of Ria’s work was held in Museum ‘Het Prinsenhof’ , the municipal museum of Delft. On this occasion the book ‘Spiegels van de ziel’ (Mirrors of the soul) was published. This book contains an overview of paintings by Ria Nieswaag from 1994-2008; ISBN: 978-90-74063-38-8