Friday, September 4, 2009

Kim Addonizio 'what is this thing called love'

Personal truth is not an easy thing to nail down, though most writers are trying to do it, whether by allusion, extension, negation, indirection, or some other means. But it doesn't yield readily to a straightforward gaze, perhaps because under interrogation it tends to break up into multiple truths. When this happens, fractured meanings can disperse quickly in all directions, even evaporate altogether, and if it is not the writer's purpose to simply underscore the instability of all meanings then the work will lose some of the power of its intention. This weakened effect can be more noticeable in poetry, which is generally more volatile than prose, more friable, and therefore more likely to disintegrate under any but the most delicate handling. A poem is so much closer to the edge of whatever it is in us that discriminates between meaning and meaninglessness - it easily exceeds its own limits, spills from a state of coherence into what sounds merely deranged, incomprehensible - at least, to the ordinary reader, certainly to those of us not ordinarily readers at all. But it is to these quotidian souls that Kim Addonizio pitches her work, in the confidence that her personal truths will resonate in their (her/our) experience. She locates herself squarely in the middle of the ordinary, contemporary world. Her gaze is unflinching, clear-eyed, and direct, unforgiving even, and the experiences she is able to articulate do not shatter or divide under the pressure of her attention but remain intact. Each poem articulates a movement towards singularity, not away from it: it gathers and concentrates its meanings into one perfectly translucent gesture, a sort of snapshot of contemporary reality, a polaroid. She aims always, and with astonishing precision, for the naked fact, the simply true. It was the photographer Lisette Model who said the most mysterious thing is a fact clearly stated, and her student Diane Arbus who so famously achieved this effect in her work, but Addonizio's best poems are like this too. They are deceptively simple, if deception is a word which can be associated with poems as raw and as honest as this. I found myself dazzled by the subtlety of her ambiguous, unclassifiable tone - it is detached but immediate, unsentimental in the extreme, but delicate, suffused with light. The work telegraphs a kind of profound disillusion, but is not hopeless on account of that. It is rather in the vein of something James Ellroy of all people wrote in his harrowing memoir, something I scrawled once in capital letters in a notebook - disillusionment was enlightenment. There is a sense in these wry, fragile, beautiful poems about sex and booze and cancer and video games and fashion magazines and loneliness and failed relationships, of awakening to something absolute about life. Perhaps it is acceptance, of a fact of life achieved through accepting it, which as anybody knows is quite an achievement, and especially so in language, which is so often deployed in the service of subterfuge. I should illustrate, but it is the pristine wholeness of the poems I want to emphasize, so rather than dissect an assortment I will just quote one in full, one of my favorites obviously, and urge readers to buy the book and test for themselves the truth of these poems against their own experience.


The milk spread,
a translucent stain
covering the word milk,

snaking down toward come,
and womb and penis, toward gashes
and swiveled, toward the graceful

grey flower and the infelicitous
errless digit, so that suddenly
the page seemed to be weeping,

the way a statue of the Virgin
in some poor but devout parish
might begin to weep, ichor streaming

from the eyes, the open palms,
so that when the girl kneeling
in the rain of the convent yard

touches the mottled white
folds of the stone robe
her lupus disappears. And I felt

as that girl must have felt,
that the Holy Mother herself
had come to reveal

the true nature of the real,
goddess in the statue,
bread in each word's

black flowering, and I rose
and went to the kitchen -
sacristy of the cupboards

tabernacle of the fridge -
to refill my glass
with her wild and holy blood.

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