Poet Of The Week

Kim Addonizio

     June 20–26, 2016

Kim Addonizio is the author of six poetry collections, including Mortal Trash (Norton, forthcoming June 2016) and Tell Me, a finalist for the National Book Award. She has also written two novels, two story collections and two books on writing poetry, as well as a new memoir-in-essays, Bukowski in a Sundress (Viking/Penguin, forthcoming June 2016). She has received fellowships from the NEA and the Guggenheim Foundation, two Pushcart Prizes and other honors. On Thursday, June 23, Addonizio will read for the Brooklyn Poets Reading Series at 61 Local with Tommy Pico and Joanna C. Valente.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Whoever came up with the acronym must have been happy
to think of everyone in winter walking around
saying ”I have SAD” instead of “This time of year,
when the light leaves early and intimations of colder
hours settle over the houses like the great oppressive
oily scutes of a dragon’s belly, I feel, I don’t know,
a sense of ennui, a listlessness or lassitude
but more than that a definite undertow of dread
spreading over the waters of my already not-
exactly-sunny-to-begin-with-soul, if one can even
speak of the soul anymore, which is part of the problem,
isn’t it, I mean, how do I even know if I have one,
given that I’m essentially a secular humanist and missing
whatever constellation or Holy Smurf guides people
through their lives, Jesus or Mohammad and then
either Mohammed’s son or second in command
depending on who you thought was the true
successor, which is only one of the problems still being
worked out by wars and car bombings just
as similar problems were solved in earlier times by flambeing
people in public after rack-induced confessions, and if
there’s no immortal soul that’s soon (too soon if you
ask me) to be either whirled up to heaven
like a cow shining in a tornado or else hauled screaming
into the underworld like a pig to a scalding tank,
that is, if we just, you know, stop, the filament worn out
or shooting through the glass and exploding the bulb
but either way, done, done for, pure nothing, the socket empty
for long enough to hear some prayers or poems and then
another little light bulb’s screwed into place with
songs and lullabies and eventually loud music and drugs
which maybe I should be taking to overcome this thing
I hardly know how to describe, and which hardly anyone
wants to hear about since who can think too long
about such matters before all they want
is a drink or quiet place to curl up or TV to turn on
along with every light in the house,” and when your lover
(if you are lucky enough to have one even if you sometimes
feel bored and stifled by him/her or that maybe you could have
done better especially in terms of having more sex
money complex conversations a heavier plinth
for your nobly woeful statue) asks What’s wrong
you can forget all this and simply say “I have SAD”
since everyone knows that diagnosis is the first step
though on which stair or ladder is better left unmentioned
since they lead either way, but are best traveled
with someone steadying the rungs or waiting at the top
or bottom with a candle, a word, a cup of something hot
and not too bitter, that you can drink down, and proclaim

–From Mortal Trash, W. W. Norton & Company, 2016.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

The seed was planted by a friend who told me that her husband “had SAD” and I thought that was such a great way to compress/suggest so much more. So then I wanted to take that little atom and split it open.

What are you working on right now?

I’m just starting a tour for two new books—a memoir, Bukowski in a Sundress, and a poetry collection, Mortal Trash. So there’s a fuckload of travel, promo, etc. going on. I’m not writing, and I wish I were.

What’s a good day for you?

One in which I don’t have to do much of anything. I need a lot of alone time. I like indoor life. Nailing something in writing is the best feeling, and if I feel like I’ve done that, I’m good.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

I’ve been on an extended adventure in New York; I joined a friend who got a temporary job in Manhattan and wanted a roommate. Then I lost my place in Oakland, and her six-month job turned into three years, so I stayed. Now I’m headed back to California.

Tell us about your neighborhood. How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?

We were moving around Manhattan at first to various sublets. Then a friend who had a place in Williamsburg offered it to us for a really generous discount, so I’ve been here almost two years. It’s a high rise on the East River, so you can imagine the view of Manhattan. That’s my favorite thing, looking at the river, the lit buildings at night, the tugboats & helicopters & small planes & ferries. Williamsburg, though: so much privilege in the air. So many people priced out. Another high rise going up next door. This is happening all over, and it’s scary. San Francisco, where I lived for a long time, has lost its soul. I moved to Oakland after that, where housing was affordable. Now I don’t know if I can afford to live there, at least not without a roommate.

Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad or in between.

Honestly, I can’t think of one. It’s just been life happening, but in a different place. But the best thing about being here has been that my daughter, Aya, lives in Brooklyn, and when we’re both in town, we get to see each other every week.

What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?

I feel like my community has a lot of ghosts in it—the poets who aren’t here anymore physically, but whose spirits I’m in communication with. Not like I’m breaking out the Ouija board. Just reading them and thinking about them and learning from them. Emily Dickinson is a part of my community, and Whitman, and Keats, and Hopkins, and Larkin, and Bishop and so many others. As for living poets, my community is scattered all over and I don’t feel like it’s centered in any one place. I don’t go to a lot of readings—I’d usually rather just read somebody’s book and make my own connection that way.

Tell us about some Brooklyn poets or poetry mentors who have been important to you.

Well, Whitman—born in Long Island, but his family moved to Brooklyn when he was a toddler. Imagine little Walt! My mentors, again: mostly ghosts.

Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.

It isn’t the last poem I read, but I recently returned to it because I’m leading a writing retreat right now where I’ve asked people to bring a poem that knocks them out. And what came to mind right away was “Bresson’s Movies” by Robert Creeley. Mostly I’ve been reading memoirs and essays because I’m slowly working on a new book of essays. And I’m doing this interview right after the Orlando shootings, so when I heard the news I thought of Larkin’s “what survives of us is love” from “An Arundel Tomb,” and I’ve been rereading him yet again. I love his cynicism and melancholy along with his craft, which is superb. And though he may have meant that line a little half-heartedly, it felt true to me, and spoke to that grief, which is one of poetry’s beauties.

What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?

Wow, that would be a really long and embarrassing list. I’m just now reading Jane Austen for the first time. I like a lot of Lowell’s poems but I don’t think I’ve read any of his books straight through. There are a lot of poets I know more by a handful of poems than by their collections.

Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?

My reading is very scattershot. I’ve got a dozen books on my iPad and I’m reading four or five of them at a time. I don’t plan what to read. I just go with what I run into, what calls to me. I like the iPad for traveling. I can read anywhere, even if I’m somewhere the light is bad. But I love books, their physical presence, and I’m really glad that physical books aren’t disappearing. There is something terribly wrong with a home that has no books in it. And I also love that no one can track my reading or tell me how many people have underlined a passage. A book is private. It’s off the grid. I’m sickened by how much of our lives is being monitored, even though I also need and appreciate a lot about our digital lives.

Why Brooklyn?

Why anywhere? Chance. Fate. The next thing. The myth of it made flesh. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”