A Quick Talk with Kim Addonizio

Casey McAlduff: First off, Kim, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me. I can’t wait for your reading at The Make Out Room for IPLSF on February 15th!  I saw you read last year at San Jose Poetry Center, and it’s been fruitful for me as a poet to get to know your work since then. While preparing for this interview, I was struck by a conversation you had with Susan Browne, in which you name comedian Bill Hicks as one of your muses. I immediately connected with that, as he’s been an inspiration to my work and my thought-process as well. An ex-boyfriend introduced me to his Hicks’ stand-up a couple years back, and I was immediately floored by his signature cryptic social criticism.

Although sometimes Bill Hicks’ paranoia can be frightening, I admire his refusal to conform to ‘the prettiness of it all’’; in other words, I respect his commitment to the bad. And I respect it so much because it’s not all bad—some kind of hope remains, even if it’s just hope for a laugh. Hicks has the rare ability—which I think you also possess—to use cynicism as a means to explore the realm of love.

This balancing act of Hicks’ between despair and hope is resonant for me in your work as well. For instance, there is a certain obligation to ‘the bad news’ in many of your poems— “Eating Together” comes to mind here, so does Jimmy and Rita, as does the influence of the blues overall.  Keeping Hicks in mind, do you feel that the decision to write and the decision to ‘face’ life’s harsher realities are inter-related? If so, why do you feel that the poem is an effective medium for exploring the more difficult aspects of our existence? And how might comedy play into it all?

Kim Addonizio: It’s not really a decision to write, or a decision to face life’s harsher realities; that’s just who I am.  I need to write. I write about my vision, or version, if you prefer, of the world. Hicks wrote out of his, I’m sure. That’s what made him authentic. Comedy plays into it because comedy is part of the world, too. The world really is funny. If you leave that out, you’re missing a big part of life. Earnest people are boring because they don’t get that as tragic as it is, it’s also pretty hilarious. Humor gives you perspective, without which you’re just one more depressive.  If you’re going to write dark poems, you’d better find a way to light them up occasionally, with hope or humor. Or just the fact of their writing, a voice saying This is.

CM: One of my favorite things about your work is that you use the poem as a space to liberate the speakers’ desires and thoughts, like in this excerpt from “What Women Want”:

“I want that red dress bad.

I want it to confirm

your worst fears about me,

to show you how little I care about you   

or anything except what

I want. When I find it, I’ll pull that garment   

from its hanger like I’m choosing a body   

to carry me into this world, through   

the birth-cries and the love-cries too,   

and I’ll wear it like bones, like skin,   

it’ll be the goddamned

dress they bury me in.”

(excerpt of “What Do Women Want?” from Tell Me. Copyright © 2000. http://www.boaeditions.org.)

Can you talk more about this declarative, out-spoken quality of your speakers that seems to be nourished by poetry? I’ve felt this same kind of control before while writing poems, and I find it to be one of poetry’s strangest but most amazing traits—that the mere writing of a poem allows us to embrace a kind of boldness. What do you think it is about a poem that empowers and drives this confidence into being?

KA: Yeah, writing a poem does give you that feeling—that you’ve wrestled something out of the chaos and pinned it to the mat for a moment. Then it gets up again, and you have to try to do the same thing again. And, well, in a poem, you get to revise. (How’s that—revision as an opportunity instead of some hateful command:  Thou Shalt Revise Or Your Poems Shall Suck.). Really, you get to rework it until it’s right. In life, when it’s wrong, sometimes you just can’t fix it. You can’t fix death, but in a poem you can memorialize someone who died, maybe even make them live again in the space of the poem.  The poem is an alternate universe, where another order of reality can hold sway.

CM: At one point in one of your interviews, you state that “poetry is the only form of spirituality [you] consistently practice.” At the same time, your work is often described—in a positive way—as “irreverent.” How do you grapple with this contradiction between the spiritual motivation behind the object and the seeming rebelliousness of the object itself? And can you talk to us a bit more about how the act of writing has also become a spiritual act for you?

KA: To revere is to deeply respect something, to honor it. I respect life—or rather Life—it’s an enormous, multifaceted, amazing, gorgeous, terrifying, surprising entity. Big fun. What I meant by that comment is that writing poetry puts me in a place outside of time, into that alternate universe I mentioned. I don’t really see any contradiction…I guess if you’re talking about religion or something, there might be, but I don’t believe in religion.

CM: You’ll be reading at The International Poetry Library of San Francisco’s Valentine’s Day event on February 15th at the Make Out Room in SF. So, in honor of the holiday, I’ve got a few questions about love and its relationship to your writing. To begin, perhaps you can share with us what love means to you as an individual, and what, in your opinion, constitutes a ‘love poem’? Or, to say it a different way, do you believe that all poems are, ultimately, driven by love, and/or is it possible to write from a place beyond love?

KA: I like that: “All poems are, ultimately, driven by love.” I’d buy that in a heartbeat. I don’t think there is a place beyond love.  Love is the place beyond. If consciousness could evolve fast enough and get anywhere near there, we’d have a lot better chance as a species than we do right now. And most of us need the kind of love that comes from friends, families, partners. And from poems.  I feel like I’m stating the obvious and trying to sound profound about love and consciousness. Doesn’t everyone know this shit already? Then again, look at today’s NY Times.  It doesn’t matter what day it is.  The world is a fucking nightmare. Wow, I just went straight into the darkness again.  What I mean to say is just, you know, without love we are truly fucked, so let’s hear it for love.

CM: Okay, last question. If you were to get a tattoo of one line of another poet’s poetry, which poet would it be and which line would you choose? (If you have one already, my apologies! You don’t have to give it away if you don’t want to–)

KA:  I have five tattoos right now, and the next and possibly last one I want is some poetry. I just don’t know yet what it is. When I find it, I’ll know.