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Life Is Poetry – Poetry Is Life

February 19, 2010

By Diane Pitts

She lives in a world of metaphor, simile, and symbol. She nourishes the nascent creativity of her students. She performs her art with flair and passion. Marilyn Kallet’s is a life of writing, teaching, and performing. She is the author of fourteen books, including the recently published Packing Light: New and Selected Poems. Kallet has won the Tennessee Arts Commission Literary Fellowship in Poetry, was the Knoxville YWCA’s Woman of Achievement in the Arts in 2000, and was inducted into the East Tennessee Literary Hall of Fame in Poetry in 2005.

She holds a Lindsay Young Professorship at the University of Tennessee, where she directed the creative writing program for 17 years. Kallet teaches poetry workshops for the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in Auvillar, France, and has enjoyed writing residencies in France and Hawaii.

For more information about her writing workshops in Auvillar, France, please go to http://www.vcca.com/kallet.html.

Poems by Marilyn Kallett

From Packing Light: New and Selected Poems, Black Widow Press, 2009.

Jonah on Oprah

“I’ve lived through gut-wrenching
remorse, got swallowed up by it.

Now I understand I can’t run
from my problems.

I bear witness, whales blow
worse blubber-breath than my boss,

all undigested krill!
I pay attention,

take my medication,
do as told.

I’ve boarded up the souvenir shop
in Ninevah. No more scrimshaw.

Whales endangered.
I’m not gloating.

I water my spindly plants
until I near-drown them.

Voices? Only on the tube.
I prefer Law and Order,

and though she’s abrasive
as the Negev, Judge Judy.

I just love watching idiots scramble,
try to argue, try to flee!”

Saying Goodbye

We embraced, there in the parking lot
of the ordinary.
How could I know your arms were arguing last things?
Your cheek in my hair.
For a moment, I pressed against you. Goodbyes can be vast.
In a breath, we traded lives. I didn’t know you
were a cliff I had reached the edge of.
Your touch echoed.
I simply followed it like song.


Stefane’s doggie doesn’t know he’s French.
I like him for that—no
snippety tongue, no snobbery.
He wags his stubby tail and grins.

I like him for that. He doesn’t
slobber, no kissy-kiss,
he wags, grins, ignores me
so we can each return to business.

No kissy-kiss, no wet tongue,
unlike some important men
who wag, smile and slobber
over girls, oozing, “It’s custom!”

He wags his stubby tail and grins.
Stefane’s doggy doesn’t know he’s French.

Packing Light

When I said I wanted to travel light,
didn’t mean I’d part with undies
and mascara. That all my baggage

should go missing. When the airline
rang my hotel with “sorry,”
I started making excuses—

“Won’t be able to attend
the writers’ conference after all,
medical reasons, my heart, etc.”

When the Buddha realized
he’d lost everything,
that we were born to die,

he stopped desiring.
(Nu, Grandma Anna would have asked,
was he Jewish?)

But the female boddisattvas
wrapped in silk, swirled
beneath headdresses

that rivaled Yerushalayim.
Not so the mishpokah.
Grandma in the shtetl,

cousins becalmed
by the Schwarzwald
were forced to let go.

My parents clung hard
to their houses, cars, and daughters.

Which begs the question,
Marilyn, what ghosts can you pack off,
pitch over the side?

What will you take with you
into your 60th year?
Hanging here

like a little spider,
lightness feels pretty good,
no? Even with the dark

gulping around you.

Fig Bread

Dark crust bejeweled
with figs, we ladies thought we’d pass out
when we slathered it with Brie.

We swooned and let go
of body image,
Weight Watchers,

swigged Sancerre
and chomped some more.
Reader, don’t bother me

with your fat grams!
I devoured a loaf
smeared with homemade Brie.

Tell my husband
I’ve left him for crumbs.
I can never go home to Wonder Bread, Tennessee.

Books by Marilyn Kallet

The cover of Marilyn Kallet's book Packing LightPacking Light: New and Selected Poems

Circe, After Hours (poetry)

Last Love Poems of Paul Eluard (translations)

The Movable Nest: A Mother/Daughter Companion (with K. Byer)

Jack the Healing Cat

The Art of College Teaching: 28 Takes (with A. Morgan)

One For Each Night: Chanukah Tales and Recipes

Sleeping With One Eye Open: Women Writers and the Art of Survival (with J. O. Cofer)

How to Get Heat Without Fire (poetry)

Worlds in Our Words: Contemporary American Women Writers (with P. Clark)

A House of Gathering: Poets on May Sarton’s Poetry

Honest Simplicity in William Carlos Williams’ “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower”

In the Great Night (poetry)

Devils Live So Near (poetry)