This Thursday, UNC-Wilmington will be welcoming poet Kim Addonizio, author of five poetry collections such as Tell Me (listen and read a excerpt), a finalist for the National Book Award; What Is This Thing Called Love (listen and read a excerpt), as well as her latest collection, Lucifer at the Starlite (listen and read a excerpt). With a gift of getting to the heart and rawness of each poem, while exposing the vulnerability, strength and weakness in each moment, Addonizio’s words will leave a strong impact on you, long after you’re done reading her work.
Bambi Weavil: You have written in various genres: poetry, fiction and essays, and received the Guggenheim Fellowship, and two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, how have you stayed focused and connected to your work, no matter what genre you are presenting? Do you view your role as a teacher and a writer not mutually exclusive?
Kim Addonizio: For me, it’s all writing, and I need to write. I’m happiest when I’m involved in a poem. Prose is exciting in its way, but I think I go to a deeper place with poetry. It would be interesting to put some electrodes on my brain–I bet more areas would light up when I was involved with a poem than with a novel or essay. As for teaching, it’s one way I keep myself learning. I can spend an evening getting lost on the internet reading, say, John Donne, just because I thought of one of his poems I wanted to show a writing group.
BW: What I have always loved about your work is it has ways of being intense, tender, raw, vulnerable, sexual, funny, beautiful in moments that are not necessarily ‘pretty’ but 1000% gutsy. You have written about topics such as addictions, damaged women, suffering, love…what do you feel is most misunderstood about your books? What is currently inspiring your work now?
KA: I think the distinction between “pretty” and “beautiful” is an important one. Art is about looking at all aspects of life, and as we all know, life isn’t all that pretty a lot of the time. There is a lot of beauty in the world, though. I think most poets are probably misunderstood, at least by younger readers who don’t yet understand quite how literary language works. Sometimes people form opinions about me, the person, based on how they see the persona in my poems. Right now I’m inspired by having just gone through a breakup. If “inspired” is the right word.
BW: As someone who has benefited greatly from the “poetry workshop experience” through the Creative Writing program at UNC-Wilmington, I’m thrilled to learn that you teach and conduct poetry workshops privately, is it for all walks of life, as well as those who have been in the BFA or MFA program?
KA: Well, I do teach private workshops, and my students are fairly diverse in some ways, but not in the ways they would be if I were teaching at a community college. My workshops aren’t cheap. But they are part of how I make my living, and I’m grateful that there are writers out there who value my feedback.
BW: Many not be aware but you also are connected to music. You released a spoken-word (with music) album with Swearing, Smoking, Drinking, & Kissing with Susan Browne, what was the experience of creating this album with Susan? Will you be doing more spoken word/music albums in the future?
KA: It was a blast to make the CD. A couple of the cuts a little rough, actually, because they were rehearsals. By the time we were putting things together, the guitarist had killed himself. We could have redone those tracks with someone else, but it was nice to have a record of what we had done with him. The other cuts were smoother. I’d like to do another one someday. In the meantime, that one is on cdbaby.com; if someone’s interested, they can get it there.
BW: You have been to Wilmington/UNC-Wilmington before, what do you like about the university and the coastal community?
KA: It seems like a genuine community. That’s so important for a developing writer–to be someplace you’re taken seriously, but also nurtured. I have so many students now who quit writing when they were younger because they were shut down by nasty criticism. In the end, though, if you want to write, you can’t let anyone shut you down.
BW: Do you consider yourself connected to any particular activism or non-profit causes? What does feminism mean to your work as a writer?
KA: I wouldn’t call myself an activist, but I try to be an informed citizen. I have a handful of places I send money when I can, I sign petitions, that sort of thing. I feel that poetry is my true work in the world. I grew up during the so-called “second wave” of feminism, so it was very much in my consciousness as a young woman. Maybe we’ve come a long way, as the Virginia Slims ad said, but we’ve got a hell of a long way to go, even in this country, where women have it much better. Don’t get me started. To quote a different source: It’s a man’s world.
BW: With society on a social media frontier, where we’re all rushing around to be instantly connected, fulfilling instant gratification through mediums such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as to out top each other’s gadgets on a technology front, do you feel poetry will find its much needed voice amongst the noise? How have you used social media or the Internet to market your career?
KA: The Internet has actually done a lot for poetry; poetry is now more available than ever, to more people. But the deep attention that poetry asks for is being eroded by the way technology is changing our brains. I haven’t tried to market myself much on social media sites; that’s not saying I wouldn’t. I have over 2,000 Facebook friends, which is crazy and kind of cool at the same time. I’ve advertised my poetry workshops there, but mostly I go for the same reasons a lot of other people do; to stay in touch, to see what people are up to.
BW: I noticed you wrote the preface for the anthology, Persistent Voices: An Anthology of Poets Lost to AIDS, where you write about how you’ve done workshops for those infected by HIV/AIDS, what was that experience of teaching workshops like for you?
KA: I’m not sure what I could add to what I wrote for that anthology. It did make me think a lot about the question: what is poetry for? For those guys, it was about being heard. But I don’t really think poetry has to be for anything. It can just be what it is. And hopefully, whether you’re writing to “express yourself” or hopefully–more interestingly–to make a work of art, that can matter to someone else.
BW: What can your fans look forward from you this year in terms of any upcoming book releases?
KA: I’m working on a new book of poems, but it won’t be ready anytime soon. My latest one, Lucifer at the Starlite, just came out in paperback.
BW: What’s your drink of choice?
KA: Do I have to choose one? White wine. Campari and soda. An occasional margarita for breakfast. I had to say that about the margarita; I’ve got a reputation to uphold.
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If you are in Wilmington, NC, do not miss Kim Addonizio’s reading, free at 7p EST on Thursday, February 10, 2011, in room 1008 of the Computer Information Systems Building at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, presented by the Department of Creative Writing. Catch Kim on the road and on her website at KimAddonizio.com.