CHRIS RICE COOPER is a newspaper writer, feature stories writer, poet, fiction writer, photographer, and painter. She maintains a blog at https://chrisricecooper.blogspot.com. She has a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice and completed all of her poetry and fiction workshops required for her Master’s in Creative Writing with a focus on poetry. She, her husband Wayne, sons Nicholas and Caleb, cats Nation and Alaska reside in the St. Louis area.
Christal Ann Rice Cooper
Saturday, April 14, 2018
#15 Backstory of the Poem "Ode To Disappointment" by Marilyn Kallet . . .
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***This is the fifteenth
in a never-ending series called BACKSTORY OF THE POEM where the Chris
Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific poem and how the poet wrote
that specific poem.
Backstory of the Poem
“Ode to Disappointment”
by Marilyn Kallet
Can you go through the step-by-step process of writing this poem from the
moment the idea was first conceived in your brain until final form? Where were you when you started to actually
write the poem? And please describe the
place in great detail. I was privileged to be on a professional writing
retreat in Auvillar, France, October, 2015. My goal was to write new poems. The
Virginia Center for the Creative Arts owns property in Auvillar; in Southwest
France, on the pilgrimage route of St. Jacques of Compostelle. (Top Left: Marilyn Kallet in France. Copyright granted by Marilyn Kallet. Top Right: Marilyn Kallet in the Auvillar, France Studio. Copyright granted by Marilyn Kallet.)
They built a modern
studio for writers and painters. Two doors down, in a rehabbed 17th century
house, they lodge writers and artists. My first visit there as VCCA Fellow was
decisive. My studio overlooked the shape-shifting Garonne River,(Left: Photo attributed and copyright granted by Marilyn Kallet) and I fell in
love. That was 2017.
I proposed a workshop to VCCA: "O Taste & See: Writing the Senses in Deep France."
This year marks my tenth year of leading the workshop. Warning: the place,
people, food and wine are addictive. (Right: O Taste & See Farewell Dinner. Photo attribution and copyright granted by Marilyn Kallet.)
Over the years, the
University of Tennessee has often helped to foot the bill for my writing residencies.
The Professional Development grant program has provided travel and research
grants; the English Department's Hodges Fund has been even more generous. In
short, I've been spoiled! (Left: Marilyn Kallet's University of Tennessee photo.)
I was sitting in "my" studio in Auvillar,
on October 30, 2015, ready to click on the email from the Graduate Office that
hosts the PD grants. The Garonne was green and gold and snaky. The plane trees
and poplars along the riverside were turning bright gold. (Right: Auvillar, France photo attributed and copyright granted by Marilyn Kallet.)
I opened the email,
and it began, "The committee has decided not to fund your professional
development grant." Then there was a line about giving newer applicants a
chance. I went into shock for about three minutes, then started to write my poem!
The committee's line of rejection is obviously the opening line of my poem.
After that, I made up the rest of the letter's wording. (Left: Auvillar Gold attributed and copyright granted by Marilyn Kallet.)
Neruda is one of my
literary companions. I have read his odes over and over. Often I travel with a
volume of his work. He wrote odes––praise poems––to everything: his socks, his
critics, his solitude. The art of writing praise poems to disappointments came
from him. It's a good skill for a writer to have! (Right: Pablo Neruda recording his poetry in 1966. Public Domain.)
The poem was published by Plume, in their Anthology
4, 2016. And this month it will appear in my new book, How Our Bodies Learned,
Black Widow Press. Sweet revenge!
The ability to
transform life's blows––big and small––into song, into story, and art––that's a
What month and year did you start writing this poem?
October, 2015. The
turning leaves were uplifting. As Shakespeare wrote, "That time of year that mayst in me behold..." Perfect
set-up for a disappointment, no? What the light tone of the poem doesn't
tell the reader is that the poet will going to Paris in November. That the
second night of her stay in Paris, November 13, there will be a terror attack.
That all the days and nights in Auvillar prior to Paris will indeed be
paradise, compared to what will hit the fan in November. My poems in Auvillar,
and the ones from the time of the Paris attacks, are in the new book. We poets
compose lyrics, yes. But sometimes we are called upon to bear witness. Then our
writing is closer to journalism than to songwriting. We must be ready for those
times, too. (Above Right: Marilyn Kallet in Vienna's Jewish Quarter. Copyright granted by Marilyn Kallet.)
How many drafts of this poem did you write before going to the final? (And
can you share a photograph of your rough drafts with pen markings on it?) Were there any lines in any of your rough
drafts of this poem that were not in the final version? And can you share them with us?
I composed this poem in two drafts. The body of the poem came out whole.
There was an extra phrase in the original. After the line, "We suspect it
touches itself," I originally included "Private parts." Not
necessary, as that is implicit in the self-touching. And the line about Keats,
"He mined his own sources," originally read, "He had his own
sources." Revision often involves tightening and revving up the verbs.(Top Right: Marilyn Kallet in October of 2015. Copyright granted by Marilyn Kallet. Left: John Keats painting attributed to William Hilton.)
What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem?Poetry can be a consolation, an antidote––whether
it sings about a personal disappointment––or a national political disaster.
Poetry bears witness and transforms. The blues have always embodied both sorrow
and laughter. (Right Marilyn Kallet holding her latest poetry collection How Our Bodies Learned. Copyright granted by Marilyn Kallet.)
Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why?"Other applicants may be newer," suggests that they may also be
Your biography?I was born in Montgomery, Alabama. My mother was
from Alabama. She met my Brooklyn-born father when he was stationed at Maxwell
Field, during WWII. I was three years'old when they moved to New York. My
mother never forgave my father for the move. She was always cold in New York.
The minute my father died, she moved back to Montgomery.
They made the mistake
of sending me to Tufts University in Boston, during the 1960's. I came home
radicalized and critical of their politics. I went to Rutgers for my MA and PhD
in Comparative Literature. Back in those days, Comp. Lit at Rutgers was a
patriarchal haven. Our program director had a poster of himself fighting the
bulls at Pamplona. He said he had only ever enjoyed fighting bulls and being
captain of a submarine. Once, he asked me for a drink to the Harvard Club. He
opened the conversation by saying, "Robert will always be a better poet
than Elizabeth." (Top Right: Marilyn Kallet in the 1960s. Copyright granted by Marilyn Kallet. Bottom Right: Book about Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop's correspondence with one another.)
With Judith Ortiz
Cofer, I edited a book of essays about the obstacles that women writers faced: Sleeping With One Eye Open: Women Writers
and the Art of Survival, U of Georgia Press, 1996. My essay was about
I have been teaching
at the University of Tennessee since 1981. When I arrived here, I met my
husband, Lou Gross, a nice Jewish boy from Philadelphia. He directs NimBios,
the National Institute for Math and Biological Sciences. Our daughter, Heather,
lives in Atlanta with her husband, Mark Hanselman. She's the best copy editor I
know and Mark is an engineer. They rescue animals. (Right: Marilyn Kallet, daughter Heather, and husband Lou Gross. Copyright granted by Marilyn Kallet.)
Ode to Disappointment
committee has decided
to fund your Professional Development
proposal.We think you are already developed.
applications have risen to the top,
chicken fat on cooling soup.
applicants may be newer,
developed, but more promising,
not professional. Poetry sits alone in a dark
and who knows what it does?
suspect it touches itself.
don’t need a grant to write poetry.
you need is a pen and a bottle.
swill. Think Bukowski,
never offered him a dime.
Keats. We did not fund him. He mined his own
You can find your own cash. Your husband,