Online Edition: Winter 2000/2001

Tell Me by Kim Addonizio

Tell Me

Kim Addonizio

Boa Editions ($12.95)

by Sean Thomas Dougherty

Kim Addonizio's third collection continues the dialectic of urban despair--the dialogue between bar room and beauty, between sorrow songs and simple prayers--that has earned her a wide readership and many honors. Addonizio's poems depict a landscape of failed relationships, drunken lovers, and barroom drawl. She creates poems of casual formality to reflect the discontinuity and loosely held together lives of her speakers, and often evokes the thoughts and talk of Others--sometimes in the disguise of completely created personas, as in her previous book, the novelesque Rita and Jimmy. Here again in Tell Me are the despairing realities Addonizio so eloquently sings--the dim rooms where strangers meet, the death of parents, a painful sequence on a failed marriage —familiar territory that Addonizio narrates with intelligence and grace. But within Tell Me is also the poet's "fierce love" for her daughter, as well as a new voice--that of the Poet/Teacher who mentions "workshops," "writing," and "teaching"--which haltingly asserts it subject position as if to speak from the actual social role of Addonizio as author.

For previous literary generations, the bar room was a strictly male landscape, but in Addonizio's hands it becomes articulated through the subject position of the female body, and all the complex sexual politic which that voice engenders through hazy smoke and drunken sway. Whether Addonizio speaks of the body through a distancing "you," or "she" or intimates the body through the more immediate "I," in her work the body becomes landscape. She speaks of its "tenacious renewal," of "the tongue dipping into the real," of her "ex husband's hands," an "old intimacy" that evokes such sorrow, until her speaker states with slight awe in the book's last poem, "how images enter you, the shutter of the body." How often and simply this occurs:

clicking when you're not even looking
smooth chill of satin sheets, piano keys, a pastry's glazy crust
floating up.

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Winter 2000 Table of Contents