Kim Addonizio Confined

kim addonizio

Kim Addonizio has said that writing is the only form of spirituality she can consistently practice. She’s written poems, essays, stories, and novels, always finding unique ways to capture or simply pursue what Donald Hall called “the unsayable,” which is its own type of religion.

Addonizio tells writers to “imagine a sentence as a hall with a series of doors,” in her book Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within. We asked Addonizio about the tiny rooms that some of those doors open upon, to find out what drama, what lyricism, what life can reside in the small spaces of life. For it’s in confinement where we have to truly confront ourselves, where, as she writes in her poem “Lives of the Poets,” boiling a milk thistle on a stove might turn it into a “winged thesis.”

You told me you like to write within constraints. Why?

I’ve found that any constraint is a challenge, for me, and I seem to like challenges. Or rather, my imagination does. It’s like having a puzzle to solve. Can I make this work? Necessity is the mother, and all that. But it’s true: we get more creative when we have to work within limits. At least, I do.

 What is the shortest poem or story you’ve ever written?

I wrote a bunch of poems for Twitter one year, when it was still 140 characters, and that taught me a lot.

Here’s one: 

Elegy in C Major 

Rest. Rest. Rest. Rest.   

That is, it’s silent, because how can you write an elegy in a major key? As for stories, the 100-word ones are the shortest I’ve written.

Since poetry is shaped by forms that offer a number of different types of formal constraints, do you have a favorite form to write in?

I love the sonnet, and sonnety things: 14-liners that require you to get down to the rag and bone shop quickly, say something, develop it, and get out through the back door, leaving your reader with a little grease and marrow.

The rules of a form invite breaking it. Is it creatively more satisfying to follow the rules of constraints or to break them?

Well, both. It was really fun to get my stories to exactly 100 words, not 99 or 101. But I’ll happily break whatever rules I set for myself, or a form sets, if something more interesting appears. There’s a balance, though. When I teach forms, I try to get my students to first follow the rules, in order to learn the form. Not to give up too soon. Same with revising any piece of work. If you give up when it starts getting hard, you don’t learn anything.

Can a 1,000-page novel be a constraint?

I guess so. For the graphomaniacs among us. Personally, I prefer the romance over the marriage. But maybe that’s why I’m single.

Do constraints or an aesthetic of brevity have a place in your life off the page? Do you decorate or travel or look at art with notions or principles of brevity in mind? 

Good question—I’ve never thought about it. Do miniatures count? I like really little things. I think I could live in a doll house. But I guess if I were small enough to live there, my dishes would have to be nearly invisible.

For more, read Addonizio’s 100-word stories:

Kim Addonizio is the author of seven poetry collections, two novels, two story collections, and two books on writing poetry, The Poet’s Companion (with Dorianne Laux) and Ordinary Genius. She has received fellowships from the NEA and Guggenheim Foundation, two Pushcart Prizes, and was a National Book Award Finalist for her collection Tell Me. Her latest books are Mortal Trash: Poems (W.W. Norton) and a memoir, Bukowski in a Sundress (Penguin). She recently collaborated on a chapbook, The Night Could Go in Either Direction (Slapering Hol) with poet Brittany Perham. Addonizio also has two word/music CDs: Swearing, Smoking, Drinking, & Kissing (with Susan Browne) and My Black Angel, a companion to My Black Angel: Blues Poems & Portraits, featuring woodcuts by Charles D. Jones.

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