Sing the Body Electric

TELL ME
Kim Addonizio
BOA Editions, Ltd.
Paperback, $12.50

Bob Guter

You think a poet has it easy? A poet's job is tough. A poet's job is to shake you hard, reader, to leave you breathless, make your eyes snap open with the shock of recognition that says, "There's a world out there that I've been blind to, colors I've never seen before." Kim Addonizio's latest book of poems, Tell Me, proves that she's read the job description, is up to the task. The poems in Tell Me are full of life rendered at full force.

Addonizio is not the first poet to find her subjects mostly in the urban landscape, but she travels that landscape—littered streets, basketball courts, garbage dumps, bars—with rare immediacy, dread and love. Love is always her subject, in fact, no matter the landscape. Her appetite—the poet's appetite—is voracious for all the world's ordinary carnal pleasures:

Give me the strongest cheese, the one that stinks best;
and I want the good wine, the swirl in crystal
surrendering the bruised scent of blackberries,
or cherries, the rich spurt in the back
of the throat, the holding it there before swallowing.
[from For Desire]

Love for Addonizio means love lost and found and lost again:

Sometimes it's enough just to say
their names like a rosary, ordinary names
linked by nothing but the fact
that they belong to men who loved you. And finally
you depend on that, you pray it's enough
to last, if it has to, the rest of your life.
[from Getting Older]

In a world always in danger of vanishing beneath your feet, constancy lies only in the flesh, she seems to say, even though that flesh changes, grows old, even though one precious body may stand in for another that's been lost. Her praise of men's bodies, a constant theme in Tell Me, takes up where Whitman left off—would make Whitman blush:

Its true I can't forget any part of him,
not the long vein rising up along the underside of his cock,
or the brushy hair around his balls, dank star of the asshole,
high arches of his feet, strawberry mole on his left cheek—
imperfection that made his face exquisite—
[from Beginning With His Body And Ending In A Small Town]

Do Addonizio's poems touch me so deeply, in part, because we share a passion for men's bodies? Because she sings so well those songs I want to sing? Certainly, as a man with a disfigured body, I admire the completeness of her passion, the way that she celebrates, in a poem like "Rain," the beauty of damaged flesh, but in a larger sense my admiration arises from the way that her poems, one after another, demolish the boxes of our human isolation.

More than many writers who profess to speak explicitly for my queer crip condition, Addonizio succeeds because she creates a world where everyone is equal in pleasure and pain. Everyone gets invited to the party. Eat the cheese, drink the wine, cling to one another at the edge of the abyss because we are all that we have.

RAIN

is what I can't bear going on & not
easing all day hitting the windows like someone
throwing shovelfuls of dirt onto a
coffin keeping me in bed sick but not physically only
reading a poet's lines about Vietnam thinking of
Harry & Danny & Ron how long ago it was now
I don't know them or only my body remembers
lying beneath Harry on the hard
ground of the field frozen with little stars
of frost his hands holding an M16 or a woman
with black hair or my shoulders as he
came inside me crying & Danny strapping on
his wooden leg to teach me karate saying Don't
be afraid to maim
his naked thigh scarred
& oddly beautiful & his one foot the divot of flesh gouged
out or Ron talking bitterly about America & the night
I pushed his wheelchair too fast ran it
off the sidewalk into a tree & we laughed &
how I'd grow so tired of listening to him & never
knowing if he cared what I thought all of it
gone into my history of loss a litany I need
to sing I don't know why today it's just the rain
keeps up & I feel so cold inside I can't get out
of bed or understand why these ghosts
of men come back to press me down I couldn't
help them or I did maybe a little tenderness a
breast or kiss what I could offer not knowing I was
so young believing I could heal them the rain
relentless against the windows when will it stop oh when

All poems copyright © 2000 Kim Addonizio from TELL ME

Bob Guter is Editor of BENT

.

Afterthoughts

Rereading what I'd written above, I was not confident that I'd made the best possible case for bringing Addonizio's poetry to BENT's readers. Call it "editorial jitters," but was I really on track here? So I turned to Ray Aguilera, whose "Cafe Lady" appears in this issue, for a second opinion. Here it is. -BG

Interesting that you want to present the poetry of a hetero, nondisabled woman in BENT. In this context, I think her poetry speaks on a whole new level. You touched on that briefly toward the end of your review, and that's where the power lies, in the fact that in your heart-of-hearts, the crippled faggot in you was able to connect with a straight chick. That's pretty cool, if you ask me. That's what makes interesting reading.

This issue of inclusion is one I've been thinking about a lot. What makes Addonizio's poetry powerful and important for you, and for BENT, is that it comes from the outside, and isn't even necessarily looking in. Like many other "communities", the gay community (not to mention the crip community) has spent so much time defining itself, that it has forged a rigid set of standards, and tends to hang out in a self-imposed, self-referential ghetto. Thus, you pick up a queer rag, and it's "ALL GAY! ALL THE TIME!" Boring!

I have a friend who uses a wheelchair. For the longest time he never had a couch, because most of his friends were also chair users. As a crip who walks, I used to get annoyed, because there was never anywhere for me to sit. Everyone else always brought their own chairs. People are never one-dimensional, but unfortunately, we sometimes allow ourselves to become that way. Everyone has a life outside their sexuality, and their disability. It's important to acknowledge that, and encourage people to think about the things that we who are different might have in common. Sounds to me like a good reason for BENT readers to read a poet as good as Addonizio..

.

Tell Me has been named a finalist for the National Book Award.
Kim Addonizio's other books of poetry from BOA Editions are The Philosopher's Club, and Jimmy & Rita. A book of stories, In the Box Called Pleasure, was published by Fiction Collective 2. She is also co-author, with Dorianne Laux, of The Poet's Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry (W.W. Norton). She can be found online.

BENT is grateful to Kim Addonizio for permission to quote Rain in full.

 

© 2000 BENT

 

BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/November 2000