Mayor Madeline Rogero named Marilyn Kallet Poet Laureate for the City of Knoxville in a ceremony in June. Kallet, a UT professor of English, succeeds R.B. Morris, who was the first Poet Laureate of Knoxville.
“This is an extraordinary honor, and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity,” Kallet says. “I love writing poems and I love the city, so beauty is twice beauty in this case. I am retiring from UT at the end of July, and this new role will give me a chance to continue my public service efforts.”
Kallet is an acclaimed poet and professor and directed the UT Creative Writing program for several years. She is the author of 18 books including How Our Bodies Learned, The Love That Moves Me, and Packing Light: New and Selected Poems.
“I am so pleased to announce Marilyn’s appointment as our next Poet Laureate,” Mayor Rogero says. “She is a great and gifted writer, and she has been a champion for poetry’s ability to bring people together and help heal individuals and communities. She loves Knoxville and East Tennessee, and I can’t wait to read and hear the work she will produce as Poet Laureate.”
As part of her duties, Kallet will write commemorative poems and attend public events, such as Founders’ Day, Gay Pride, Nature Day, Honor Air, and others.
“I love the idea of being useful in this way, and I look forward to the writing, to bearing witness at some of the celebrations of our city,” Kallet says. “I want to praise the city and its many facets. To show others outside our city how much we have to offer. Come here, little dogwood blossom, fat blue jay, I have songs for you! Our fabulous first Poet Laureate, R.B. Morris, has set a standard. The mockingbirds are his! But I may write secret odes to them, too.”
One of Kallet’s main tasks as Knoxville’s Poet Laureate is to make poetry available and accessible to people in their everyday lives, which will come naturally for Kallet as she has been doing this since she joined the faculty in the UT Department of English in 1981. In addition to teaching, Kallet directed the Young Writers Institute, a workshop in creative writing for area high school teachers and students. She has also given hundreds of readings for all kinds of occasions and audiences.
“I was thrilled to hear that Marilyn Kallet has been chosen as Knoxville’s next Poet Laureate,” says Allen Dunn, professor and head of the English department. “I can think of no one better fitted for this position. Marilyn has distinguished herself as a major voice in American poetry. Her work continues the Knoxville literary tradition established by such notables as James Agee, Cormac McCarthy, Alex Haley, and Nikki Giovanni.”
The City of Knoxville Poet Laureate Program aims to extend and build on the city’s cultural heritage by recognizing and supporting citizen poets of exceptional talent and accomplishment. Each Poet Laureate serves a term of up to two years. After the announcement, Kallet read Fireflies, a selection from her book of poetry, Packing Light: New and Selected Poems.