When I turned fifty, I indulged fully in my obsession with Orpheus--by falling in love with a dark-haired incarnation, and writing about it. Not acting on the passion, but embodying it in language. The resulting book, How to Get Heat Without Fire, a sequence of love poems ranging from erotic poetry to maternal poems about my new baby daughter--was a breakthrough book for me. I felt that as a married woman and mother, as a middle-aged woman, I would be struck down by lightning or the hand of God for my breaking of taboos in language. I was not struck down.
What happened was: I became a real poet. Honest, passionate, unafraid, and able to identify risky material as a good source for art. The book covered ten years of writing my life, from age 40-50.
I think back to when I started writing poetry, in my twenties, and had a dream about "lava in the backyard" (from Devils Live so Near, my first book, 1977). It gave me images for the "overflow of powerful emotion," gave me a warning that I would need tools for self-rescue. I needed to forge a language that would let me escape the heat, not be caramelized. I wrote and wrote and wrote and haven't stopped.
We get bolder and braver and more sure-handed if we survive our obsessions and use them fully in our art, where they become hymns to something freer and more resonant than our little psyches.
Here's to the rescuing power of poetry and of art! Without it, I would have been either an ordinary crazy person, or one of the early dead. With it, I'm a singer.
I've just returned from the Big Island of Hawai'i, where I lived on the southern slope of Mauna Loa, not far from erupting Kiluaea as well. Maybe the new series will be called "With Fire." And this time, it's no metaphor!
Causes Marilyn Kallet Supports
Southern Poverty Law Center, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, ACLU, Amnesty International, Save Darfur.