While some poets only write poems, and still others write more but only ever get their poems published, writer Kim Addonizio has done both, and often. In the following email interview, she discusses her new poetry collection, Now We’re Getting Somewhere (hardcover, Kindle), including how writing prose and a memoir influences her poetry.
Photo Credit: © Elizabeth Sanderson
To start, is there a theme to the poems in Now We’re Getting Somewhere?
The two magnetic poles of the collection are framed by the epigraphs: “Everybody knows the captain lied” from Leonard Cohen, and “Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together” from Elizabeth Taylor.
I don’t really put together my poetry books thematically; it’s more that the poems reflect what I’m going through and thinking about. The curating is mostly pulling out stuff that seems weaker, or repetitive, that I’ve said better in another poem. I just get a sense of reaching critical mass, once I’ve written a lot, and then I go back and see what fits together. The concerns — or obsessions — are pretty consistent, and center on the usual poetic obsessions. Mortality, love, wine, bed, time travel…
Unless I’m mistaken, all of the poems are free verse. What is it about that form that you think works best for what you want to say?
There are a handful of more formal poems, though they’re somewhat loose: “Black Hour Blues” with its A-A-A triplets, monorhymed pieces, a couple of contemporary unmetered sonnets. Limits always inspire possibilities; the imagination loves a challenge. Then there are a lot of long-lined poems that seemed to help a certain kind of voice get itself onto the page.
Are there any writers, or maybe specific poems, who you feel had a big influence on the poems in Now We’re Getting Somewhere but not the ones in your previous collections?
I never know how to answer questions about influence. Some part of my brain takes in everything, I mean everything, just filing things away to see if they can be used later. I’m like somebody walking around collecting junk on the street, thinking I might have a use for it someday. It’s not very voluntary, though; it just happens, and odd things fall out onto the page from my unconscious mind.
Though there is one directly ekphrastic poem, on a Sandy Skoglund piece, that I wrote because someone was doing an anthology and asked for a poem. It’s called “Babies At Paradise Pond,” and it’s a wonderfully creepy and weird image.
Along with poetry, you’ve also written novels [My Dreams Out In The Street, Little Beauties] and short stories [The Palace Of Illusions, In The Box Called Pleasure], as well such non-fiction work as the memoir Bukowski In A Sundress: Confessions From A Writing Life. How does writing prose and non-fiction impact your poetry?
Writing prose often makes me long to get back to writing poetry, so there is that impact. Poetry is my happy place; each mode requires a lot of stumbling around in the dark, but I’d usually prefer to do it with the angel of poetry rather than the mule of prose. I’m okay if a mule grows a pair of wings, though, as sometimes happens.
Some poets like to read their work aloud, both on their own and in public, as a way of working out the kinks. Is this something you do as well?
I mostly listen in my head. Occasionally, if I’m really pleased with something, I’ll read it aloud to myself and be an appreciative audience of one. Public readings do give me a sense of what other people are responding to, but I don’t tend to try out work I consider unfinished.
I assume not, but has the current lockdown impacted this at all for you?
I’ve hardly done any readings since the lockdown. A bunch of them are coming up for Now We’re Getting Somewhere, as the book drops March 16. They’re all virtual readings, which should be interesting. That silent clapping! Little postage-stamp faces! Me sitting on the floor of my bedroom, being harassed by hungry cats! I’m looking forward to it. Plus, I can do it barefoot, with better wine than bookstores serve.
Some of the poems in Now We’re Getting Somewhere previously appeared in such journals as American Poetry Review, Washington Square Review, and Androit Journal. Are the versions in Now We’re Getting Somewhere the same as the ones in those journals or did you change them in any way?
I never feel a poem is finished just because it’s published. I did change several poems that had previously appeared in different versions. Mostly word choices here and there, but I totally redid the line breaks for the last poem in the book, “Stay”; it was originally published in much shorter lines, but as the voice of the book developed with a number of longer-lined poems, I felt long lines served it better, especially as the closing piece. Another poem, “Ways Of Being Lonely,” changed slightly in the several months it was being considered at The New Yorker. I wanted them to use the revised version, but they convinced me otherwise, and I think they were right. It was only a matter of a dropped line and a couple of word choices. But nothing is too small to be considered, or reconsidered, in a poem.
You also mention in the acknowledgments in Now We’re Getting Somewhere that the poem “AlienMatch.com” used to be called “aliens.com.” But I checked, and neither of those domains are in use. Why the change?
Hah, I’m surprised there is no “aliens.com.” I invented it. It’s a takeoff on dating site profiles, and I felt “AlienMatch.com” was a better fit as a title.
Finally, if someone enjoys Now We’re Getting Somewhere, and it’s the first poetry collection of yours they’ve read, which of your other ones would you recommend they read next and why that one?
Tell Me seemed to speak to a lot of people. Jimmy & Rita is a kind of novel-in-verse that is close to my heart. My Black Angel is a beautiful coffee table / gift book for any blues lover and has gorgeous woodcuts. Sorry, that’s three out of…I forget how many.