Acclaimed poet, writer and articulator of the blues Kim Addonizio fortifies the classical poetic canon with glorious fusions of sacred and profane in her latest volume, Mortal Trash. Heraclitean Fire, internet dating, antidepressant medications and crappy ex-lovers appear and disappear, one after the other. She employs prosody and parody, elegy and eulogy, with equal intensity.
For this reason, Addonizio’s appearance 4-5pm Friday in the Steinbeck Center, on the fifth floor of San Jose State University‘s Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, should make for a gala hoedown spectacular, free to the public. There will be a special cocktail hour and reading and conversation.
Addonizio’s second 2016 book, Bukowski in a Sundress: Confessions from a Writing Life, was a memoir structured as an abstract series of essays that likewise threw a thousand emotions right in your face. Unlike poetry, you won’t need to irritate the bejeezus out of the poet by asking her which stuff is true, because it’s all true. Which brings us to Charles Bukowski, of course.
Apparently, some jealous critic tossed off Addonizio as “Bukowski in a Sundress” and it stuck. Whether the bozo intended this as a compliment or a snide remark doesn’t matter. I’m glad it stuck.
As such, Bukowski in a Sundress contains more than one essay about the inquisitive prying buffoons who ask what is “real” in Addonizio’s poetry, as opposed to the parts she just made up. Many good poets seem to deal with this crap. It’s just part of being a poet. So, in one essay, “Pants on Fire,” she comes clean and rattles off a hysterical laundry list of various poetic dimensions, that is, which material she made up and what was real, or why clueless ex-boyfriends asked her stuff in the heat-of-the-fight, like, “Why do you go into things so much?” (Only a non-writer would ask that question.) Other than that, I won’t spoil it for you. Probably doesn’t matter anyway, because Bukowski in a Sundress is unspoilable, if that’s even a word.
Better yet, other essays in the book provide human advice for any would-be writing student who wants to know what “the life” is really like: drunken romps after boring academic writers’ conferences, receiving awards at the podium while hiding the self-doubt that all writers have, or even teaching in remote backwater places and empathizing with the teenage students’ pain and isolation, as they use poetry as a way out of their misery. Addonizio also goes deep into the common pitfalls of the writer’s existence in regards to drugs, self-loathing, writer’s block, distraction, boredom, family guilt, isolation, loneliness, destitution, nomadic inclinations, escapism via alcohol, avoiding the actual writing at all costs, and dealing with overwhelming amounts of rejection from agents, magazines or commercial publishers. You know this is part of the human condition, if you’re a writer.
Thankfully, I can testify that Addonizio also writes high-quality manuals of the poetic craft. Her textbook, Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within, is chock-full of exercises, meditations, discombobulations and expert lessons for grooming the practice. To make a long column short, that book was and remains a massive influence on me. Of the two dozen poems I’ve published in obscure journals, at least a third of them originated by doing exercises from Ordinary Genius. In fact, I still occasionally carry it around in my bag.
I might even owe it to Addonizio for even trying my hand at poetry on a serious level. When she came to SJSU in 2013, I bought another copy of the book and gave it to a friend of mine. In Room 255 of the main library, I stood there in the signing line with Scott Knies of the San Jose Downtown Association and Ted Gehrke, head honcho of the Fountain Blues Festival, both of whom also purchased a copy. (Poets are everywhere around these parts.) Gehrke, right then and there, booked Addonizio to perform at the Blues Festival later that year, since she’s also a killer harmonica player.
This Friday, a good branding consultant would say, “Bring your own blues.” It should be a rocking time.
MLK Jr. Library, 5th Floor
Friday, March 3, 4-5pm