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Katie Kalisz: A Quiet Woman's Clarity

Local poet and GRCC professor Katie Kalisz will read from her just-released first book of poems, Quiet Woman, on February 21 at 6:30pm, at the Grand Rapids Community College Library. The reading is free and open to the public.

Katie Kalisz: Reading & Book Signing at GRCC

Quiet Woman, published by Main Street Rag Publishing Company, will be available for $14.00 on Thurs., February 21—6:30-8:00 p.m.—Katie Kalisz, Reading and Book Signing, Grand Rapids Community College, 2nd floor, GRCC Library.

Refreshments will be served and books will be available for purchase beginning at 6:00pm.

/Cover Image courtesy of Main Street Rag

/Katie Kalisz

Katie Kalisz’s Quiet Woman is a powerful collection of life’s most precious and vulnerable moments, reminding us of the ever-present potential of our inner lives and the discovery in our fugitive thoughts: our fears, our contemplation of losses, our quiet struggles. From the beginning, Kalisz establishes the need for strength and compassion to weather life’s difficult moments, while refusing to stamp out the directness of her observations. In “Pregnant at a Funeral,” she writes:

While glassy-eyed attendants stretched
in rhythmic lines past his taut mother

in the front pew, I tried to imagine
the nearly grown child inside of me

dying before I did.

Kalisz quietly pictures “your possible names on a gray headstone, on a folded memorial program, on a kiosk with directions to the funeral luncheon,” confronting the unsettling presence of death before one’s time as she approaches her own child’s birth. The poem invites us to feel the uncertainties with the poet, even as she feels the “soft jabs” beneath her ribcage, the kicks that remind her of the insistent life within her.  

Poetry professor Deirdre Fagan has noted that “when [Kalisz] conveys honest emotions with startling scenes and language, she . . . stops her readers in their tracks [and] is at her best.”    

The poems in this volume display a remarkable personal range.  Her primary focus involves the extended family and the tender and intimate poems of birth and child raising, the sorrows and questioning that follow a miscarriage and the tenuousness of each moment, the ever-present worries about one's kids and spouse.

Kalisz also explores the effects of violence and the violation of a person's sacred spaces, questioning how to reestablish the equilibrium that is central to one’s life and identity.  The poem “Rattle” is written “after a rampage killing 7 women in Grand Rapids on July 7th, 2011.”  In “Home Invasion,” Kalisz describes a world “now naked, heavy with the things he took. Dark-leaved lilacs are accomplices, my dear river a witness,” leading her to an anxious question:   “How do I resist the darkness circling me like a wolf?” 

The strength in Quiet Woman is that the poet never turns away. Instead of offering euphemisms or evading the difficult, Kalisz handles emotional challenges with a direct, honest gaze.

Amid conflicts there is always love, especially in “Love Poem,” a narrative involving a heartrending visit to the doctor after a miscarriage.  The wife and husband are “beyond the gestures encouraged by magazines and talk show hosts.” The poet swallows back “the tears I could cry,” husband and wife “taking the sidewalk’s right angles, turning by heart in unison, although we have not been exactly here before.”  

Kalisz also attends to love’s humorous side, even in moments of intimacy. In the prose poem “Replica,” she explores the fears of losing a spouse while dreaming of making a replica of her husband’s face: “I will get used to you talking much less, and I will pretend that you are ill, that I am your caretaker atoning for the missteps I have made in our marriage.” The replica will become “your best self, . . .  sleek with just the right amount of color in your cheeks,” and “a good listener.”

As a collection, Kalisz’s poems build a collage of personal experiences, giving voice to the sorrows, joys, and struggles many of us feel we must keep silent. She handles the necessity of our quiet moments with empathy and wisdom, turning her quiet moments into a welcoming of our own.

In the final poem, “Quiet Woman,” Kalisz expands the unspoken insights and openness of women in service of a more collective, historical, ancestral voice. She returns to the beginning, to the time of hunter-gatherer societies:

Quiet women pick bones of animals clean,
relieve the sockets of their sweetness: oily meat.

We pick berries

squatting in silence on burning haunches
with anticipation of jams and pies

Here, Kalisz presents a coda to the entire work, recalling the ancient sense of duty and of jobs well-done, inspired by a history that has not fully recognized the place of this work or these women in the wider world. At the close of the collection, “Quiet Woman” conveys the dignity and the importance of women’s lives, valuing the voices of those searching for expression of their private yet vivid inner lives.

David Cope, former GR Poet Laureate and retired GRCC professor, has published the poetry journal Big Scream for over forty years.



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