Our Friend, The Poet Mary Kellogg

Mary Kellogg    photo by Jon Katz

Our friend the poet, Mary Kellogg died last night.  She was 91 years old.  Mary had entered hospice about a week ago and she died peacefully in the company of her daughters.

Mary was in her late 70’s when she wrote Jon a letter and asked if she and her friends could visit his farm.  It was after everyone else was gone that Mary told Jon she’d been writing poetry her whole life and had never shown it to anyone.  After reading a few of Mary’s poems, Jon got the idea to publish a book of her poetry.

He and I were just friends at the time, I wasn’t even doing my art, but he asked me to help edit the book.  It was the first creative thing I had done in a very long time and it opened up an important part of me that I had shut down.

For a while, it was the three of us, Mary, me, and Jon making a book. We were reading years of Mary’s poems and picking the best ones, then pairing them with Jon’s photos. We published My Place On Earth and sold over 2000 copies.

We published three more books of Mary’s poems, Whistling Woman, How To Dance and This Time Of Life. All of Mary’s books sold out.

Mary at her dining room table with her poems.

In some ways, I saw myself in Mary.  We both put our art aside and found it later in life.

It’s one of the reasons, working on that first book was so important to me.  I was helping to give Mary her voice even when I had lost my own.  And in seeing her work so hard at that point in her life to bring her poems into the world, it helped inspire me to find my own voice.

Here was Mary, a woman my mother’s age, saying with her actions if not outright that what she had to say was worth hearing. That it mattered.  And she trusted that people would want to hear it.

But Mary also believed in me at a time when I didn’t believe in myself.

She listened to me and took me seriously. She appreciated and trusted me in a way no older woman had in my life. Mary was a no-nonsense church-going woman.  She believed in family, community, and tradition.   But she never made me feel guilty or bad about myself and my choices, which in many ways, were very different from hers.

Mary was a creative mother to me.

We understood each other’s story without having to talk about it.  When I saw how Mary grabbed the opportunity to get her poems out into the world, I paid attention.  And a few years later, when I had the opportunity to turn my life around and be the artist I always was but hid, even from myself, I had Mary’s example to follow.

What I learned just today from Mary’s daughter was that publishing Mary’s first book helped lift her from a low point in her life after her husband died.  She took care of him for ten years when he had dementia and her poetry gave new meaning to her life when she needed it most.

Mary was a part of Jon and mine’s life, even before we had any idea we would end up together.  She was there through our divorces and supported us when we got married.  She wrote a poem which she read at our wedding and read her poetry at every Open House we had.

One spring she invited Jon and me to walk through the woods by her home to see the wildflowers that grew there.  Up to that point, I had no idea that wildflowers grew in the woods.  I thought they only grew in sunny fields.  I don’t remember what kind of flowers they were, but I do remember that she led us to a shady place where the ground was thick with purple flowers.  It felt like magic to me.

I don’t think those flowers ever made it into one of Mary’s poems. And we never walked in nature together again.  But I did get to see her gardens while she was still able to tend to them.  And a few times we watched the birds out her dining room window together. The same window you could see the mountains, that she called her “neighbors.”

By the time we published Mary’s last book, This Time of Life in 2018, she could no longer write poems. As the Alzheimer’s got slowly worse, She told me she just couldn’t concentrate.   But she was able to give me a folder of poems we hadn’t yet published, some from the past few years others older.

Mary and Jon

Between Mary’s illness and the pandemic, I hadn’t seen her in a long time. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think about her often and won’t continue to.

All summer as I watched the Hollyhocks bloom in my garden, I thought of Mary’s poem Hollyhock Lady. (After reading the poem Mary showed me how to make a woman in a dress out of a Hollyhock flower like she did when she was a kid. )And every time I drink a cup of Chai from one of Mary’s china cups that she gave me I think of her.

And of course, there are and Mary’s poems. Always at my fingertips.

But even more than that, what Mary taught me lives inside of me now. I live the lesson that it’s never too late to come out of hiding and show the world who we really are. And I intend to keep passing that on, as Mary did, in action and words.

Mary and me working on her book This Time of Life.



13 thoughts on “Our Friend, The Poet Mary Kellogg

  1. This a beautiful and inspiring tribute to a woman you clearly loved and admired. Thank you so much for your thoughtful and heart felt words.

  2. Condolences almost seem out of place — she meant and continues to mean so much to you, she will never really leave you. Not in any way that matters. So … Blessings on both of you.

  3. I am so glad and honored to have met her and bought her books at your Open Houses which we miss. You have our heartfelt condolences as you have lost someone lovely who changed your lives.

  4. I’m so glad that you and Mary found each other and had such a good relationship, obviously important to you both. I had an older friend for about 10 years, she died at age 98 just before covid hit. I enjoyed my visits with her–in our case, it was more connected to history, no art in either of us.

  5. Tears run down my face reading this. Such a beautiful tribute to her. While I only knew her through you and Jon, I’m touched by your tribute as I think of a dear older woman I was friends with who passed three years ago. I walk by her house most days and often fondly remember her while at times wishing I could still talk with her. Most of all, blessed to have known her…as you did, Mary.

  6. Mary sounds like one of those people who makes you a better person for having known them. Lovely tributes from both you and Jon!

  7. Beauty, STAUNCH woman! I bought her final book of poems because of your blogs & notices.

    Alzheimer’s, so cruel! My Mum died related to same 1994; her 100th birthday would be 08/31, 30 yrs & 1 day before my birth. Her younger sister just turned 98 (08/15).

    Thank you for your friendship/support/caring for this wonderful woman.

  8. As I mentioned in the comments on Jon’s BFJ blog when he posted about Mary today, that you had sold me the last copy of “This Time of Life” from your Esty shop a few years back.
    Poetry books are some of my most treasured books as I can re-read the poems again and again. I don’t loan these out to others or donate them to the library. Mary’s last book remains one of my favorites.
    I’m glad you and Jon had a Mary in your lives. I wish other people had one too.

  9. Condolences to you and Jon on the loss of Mary. I love the beautiful black and white portrait he did of her at the beginning of this post I have her book ” This Time of Life” and would love the chance to purchase her other books. I hope the poems she gave you will make it in to another book soon. May Mary’s beautiful soul rest in peace

  10. Mary as your creative mother – how loving and beautiful, Maria. As women, we need other women to help us birth what is inside of us. And now, by Mary’s example, you are able to do that, and you are helping other women to do the same. There is no greater gift.

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