Kim Addonizio

b. 1954
Kim AddonizioJoe Allen

Kim Addonizio was born in Washington DC, the daughter of a former tennis champion and a sports writer. She attended college in San Francisco, earning both her BA and MA from San Francisco State University, and has spent much of her adult life in the Bay Area. She currently lives and teaches workshops in Oakland, California. Addonizio has received numerous awards for her work, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, a Pushcart Prize, and the John Ciardi Lifetime Achievement Award. Addonizio’s poetry, known for its gritty, street-wise narrators and a wicked sense of wit, has received significant recognition since it first appeared as The Philosopher’s Club (1994), a collection of unflinching poems on subjects ranging from mortality to love. Daniela Gioseffi, writing in the American Book Review, affirmed that Addonizio “is wise and crafty in her observations and her portrayal of sensual love, filial feeling, death or loss.” Gioseffi contended that Addonizio “is most profound when she’s philosophizing about the transient quality of life and its central realization of mortality.”

Addonizio’s next book, Jimmy & Rita (1997)took on the relationship between a young homeless couple coping with alcohol and heroin abuse. Supporting themselves through petty crime, including prostitution, Jimmy and Rita achieve little security from their life together. Eventually the pair separate, though their prospects scarcely improve as a result; the book ends in a shelter for the homeless. Unique in both subject and form (it is a verse novel), Jimmy & Rita won praise for its realistic portrayal of life on the streets. Dana Gioia, in a review for the Washington Post Book World, noted that Addonizio “achieves a novelistic detachment rare for poets,” and acknowledged her “natural gift for pacing.”

In 1997 Addonizio collaborated with Dorianne Laux on The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry, a volume that focuses on the craft and process of writing poetry. The book includes writing exercises, suggestions of various themes, and examples of poems by such writers as Jane Kenyon and Jack Gilbert. A Library Journal reviewer found The Poet’s Companion to be “head and shoulders above” most other textbooks about writing. Addonizio has also published another poetry guide called Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within (2009). The book presents Addonizio’s insights into the creative process and craft of writing, as well as writing exercises and Addonizio’s own experiences as a writer, including sample rejection slips. Reviewing the guide for the Black Warrior Review, BJ Hollars noted: “The book is, quite literally, overwhelmed with dozens of useful writing exercises, all of them designed to take the lackluster poet and mold him into a well-honed poem-producing machine.”

Addonizio’s third collection of poetry, Tell Me (2000), frequently depicts people in doomed relationships. The book was nominated for a National Book Award. Library Journal contributor Barbar Hoffert commented on the effectiveness of Addonizio’s “cracked, smoky voice,” and Poetry reviewer Leslie Ullman remarked, “The sheer pleasure these poems make of language, both in turns of phrase and in swathes of extended metaphor, animates and makes convincing what could become simply fashionable cynicism and street-smart bravado.” In an interview with Jessica Belle Smith for the online publication San Francisco Arts Magazine, Addonizio remarked that while writing Tell Me, she was very aware of speaking to her readers. She commented: “I like poems that address the reader…Poetry isn’t necessarily about communication, but that element is important to me. I go back to someone like Whitman who knew I would be here even though he didn’t know me. He thought about the people who would be coming after him—and he acknowledged them and spoke to them! And I feel that he is speaking to me, he knew I’d be here someday! I love the concept of speaking to people who aren’t even born yet.”

Addonizio’s next books of poetry, What Is This Thing Called Love (2004) and Lucifer at the Starlite (2009) continue to display her wised-up ear and eye for urban detail. Reviewing What Is This Thing Called Love for Booklist, Donna Seaman wrote of Addonizio: “A smoky-voiced chanteuse, she sings the blues of lost youth and past wildness, protesting the assaults of age, the void left by a grown child and a deceased father, and the sorrows of loved ones battling disease. High heels and hangovers, horror movies and empty hotel rooms, regrets and resignation, elements all in Addonizio’s articulation of lust, the quest for oblivion, and the body’s unrelenting archiving of every pleasure and pain.” Sean Finney, in the San Francisco Magazine, likewise noted that Addonizio’s Lucifer at the Starlite, “sounds like a glam-rock show,” though he added, “the book’s strong attitude has a purpose: to provoke empathy. And these poems succeed in doing so, in large part because of the con­sis­tency of Addonizio’s persona—wry and knowing, ready to turn a phrase and say something plain in a way that rings true.”

In addition to poetry, Addonizio has published fiction, notably the novels Little Beauties (2005) and My Dreams Out in the Street (2007). Little Beauties uses multiple narrators, including the voice of an unborn child, to dramatize the effects of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The novelist Laurie Fox described it as “generous, original, sassy and surprisingly dear…Kim Addonizio does some awesome celestial math as she moves her glorious misfits around in their messy realities to create something utterly new.” My Dreams Out in the Street was described by Booklist as a “bluesy tale of bad luck and addiction, sleazy hotels and sexual violence, biblical rain and sudden reprieves.” Returning to themes she explored in her verse novel Jimmy & Rita, the novel tells the story of a couple, also called Jimmy and Rita, separated, strung-out and scraping by in San Francisco. The writer Andre Dubus III declared that “Kim Addonizio writes like Lucinda Williams sings, with hard-earned grit and grace about the heart’s longing for love and redemption, the kind that can only come in the darkest dark when survival no longer even seems likely. My Dreams Out In The Street is one of the finest American novels I’ve read in some time, a night-blooming flower you will not be able to put down, so honestly rendered you’ll wonder, as you turn the last page, why you feel so much hope.”     

Addonizio once told Contemporary Authors: “Writing is an ongoing fascination and challenge, as well as being the only form of spirituality I can consistently practice. I started as a poet and will always return to poetry—both reading and writing it—for that sense of deep discovery and communion I find there. There are only two useful rules I can think of for aspiring writers: learn your craft, and persist. The rest, as Henry James said, is the madness of art.”

 

[Updated 2010]

Career

Writer and poet, 1986—. Teaches writing privately in Oakland.

Bibliography

POETRY

  • (With Laurie Duesing and Dorianne Laux) Three West Coast Women, Five Fingers Poetry, 1987.
  • The Philosopher’s Club, foreword by Gerald Stern, BOA Editions (Rochester, NY), 1994.
  • Jimmy & Rita (verse novel), BOA Editions (Rochester, NY), 1997.
  • Tell Me, BOA Editions (Rochester, NY), 2000.
  • What Is This Thing Called Love, Poems, W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 2004.
  • Lucifer at the Starlite: Poems, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2009.

OTHER

  • Crimes of Passion (fiction), e.g. Press, 1984.
  • (With Dorianne Laux) The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry, Norton (New York, NY), 1997.
  • In the Box Called Pleasure (fiction), Fiction Collective 2 (Normal, IL), 1999.
  • (Editor, with Cheryl Dumesnil) Dorothy Parker’s Elbow: Tattoos on Writers, Writers on Tattoos, Warner Books, 2002.
  • Little Beauties (fiction), Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 2005.
  • My Dreams Out in the Street (fiction), Simon and Shuster (New York, NY), 2007.
  • Best New Poets 2009 (editor), University of Virginia Press (Charlottesville, VA), 2009.

Contributor to the chapbook DarkVeil to Sextet One, Pennywhistle Press (Santa Fe, NM), 1996. Contributor to periodicals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, American Poetry Review, Chelsea, Frighten the Horses, Gettysburg Review, Paris Review, Ploughshares, and Threepenny Review. Contributor to anthologies, including Chick- Lit, Microfiction, The Maverick Poets, Night Out, and A New Geography of Poets. Former publisher and coeditor of Five Fingers Review.

Further Reading

BOOKS

  • Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 28, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.

PERIODICALS

  • American Book Review, December-January, 1995-96, p. 28.
  • Antioch Review, spring, 1998, review of The Poet's Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry, p. 246.
  • Iowa Review, Winter 2002/2003, Volume 32 Number 3.
  • Library Journal, March 15, 1997, p. 66; October 15, 1997, review of The Poet's Companion, p. 70; April 15, 2001, Barbara Hoffert, review of Tell Me, p. 102.
  • Ploughshares, spring, 1997, Diann Blakely Shoaf, review of Jimmy & Rita, p. 212.
  • Poetry, January, 2002, Leslie Ullman, review of Tell Me, p. 234.
  • Publishers Weekly, December 30, 1996, p. 61; September 25, 2000, review of Tell Me, p. 108.
  • Washington Post Book World, January 26, 1997, p. 8.

ONLINE

  • Kim Addonizio's Home Page, http://addonizio.home.mindspring.com/ (July 20, 2003).
  • PopMatters, http://popmatters.com/ (September 27, 2002), Patrick Schabe, review of In the Box Called Pleasure.
  • San Francisco Arts Magazine, http://sanfranciscoartsmagazine.com/ (September 27, 2002), Jessica Belle Smith, "The Gritty Genius of Kim Addonizio."

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LIFE SPAN 1954–

Kim Addonizio

Biography

Kim Addonizio was born in Washington DC, the daughter of a former tennis champion and a sports writer. She attended college in San Francisco, earning both her BA and MA from San Francisco State University, and has spent much of her adult life in the Bay Area. She currently lives and teaches workshops in Oakland, California. Addonizio has received numerous awards for her work, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation . . .

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