Even though her poem’s format seems to imply line breaks, I feel they are superficial, not always breaking to make a point or to lend emphasis, same way for the indents, sometimes they start a sentence, sometimes they end a sentence, other times words trail off not so you’d ponder the words more, but so that maybe it fits neatly on the page.
When I mentioned this to my classmates, they disagreed, and I admit that there are many places where her use is specific and important, however, that was my initial impression.
The formats are pretty much the same throughout the collection and serve as a visual tie for the poems, without even looking at content or thought or anything else. I think this format was chosen to help prepare a prose piece into a more poetic form, allowing space into a dense passage that would keep a reader from delving into the material (many people I’ve run into say dense blocks of text are skimmed or feel unapproachable and this format works to avoid that problem).
Again, I had argument about the idea that her poems were primarily prose. I guess, that is why the exercise of looking at other poet’s work is important since it helps to identify how impressions change with different people.
I felt the collection was about her broken relationship with her husband and with addiction and what comes after it. Many of the poems feel isolated and lonely or full of pain, such as “Collapsing Poem”. The follow on poem “The Divorcee and Gin” seems to indicate there is a tie here between the two.
I found when I was doing poetry readings in Seattle that poems that are side by side related, tend to add commentary unconsciously, so when I would read and someone would offer a similar poem it tended to build a sense of fittingness, such as a laugh from one would add to the next.
One of the first things I did was to look up some of Kim Addonizio's work on Youtube, where I found her participation in a jazz festival. There's more out now than when I first looked, but this one seems to fit the bar scene theme:
The title poem “Tell Me” is wonderfully revealing and inviting (like a desire to step away from loneliness and reach out), and seems like a turning point in the collection. Rather than being mid center, it sits toward the end.
Many of the poems connect to bars and drinking and the problems they cause. The many poems on this topic change from relationships, to what happens, to a father’s problem with drinking, to social engagements, to addiction, to winding down after a class. They pop up throughout the collection so one is aware of it and you feel sad, but it doesn’t overwhelm the collection.
Why did I feel empathy for her poems, what happened in the poem to cause this feeling?
The emotion I felt via her imagery primarily, but I think the empathy came from the collective sense running through the pieces. It sort of says that even if we have emotion at some point, there's a greater humanity to a person than just the moment they cry, sort of like, its the sum of her experiences and willingness to dig into the world around her which feels gutsy given the pain she feels and her willingness to see people inside of people where many don't look such as the poor, the drunk, the woman on her doorstep, and how that same return look isn't guaranteed by others. So, "Tell Me", is just that demand, do you see more? given to her audience as a challenge to give back to her what she's given them.
In comparing Kim Addonizio’s work to Robert Hass’, I felt Robert Hass' work went beyond prose, to more complex contrasting imagery and thoughts. His works had emotion, but held at check, while the ideas came from many directions as if they added up to a bigger understanding. Kim Addonizio's is quite different, she's dealing in moments often, and what is at the surface at that time, very carefully examined. Not all of them are prosaic, some like Tell Me and What Women Want, are quite refined down to the nub, while others have the sharp details of capturing everything in a moment. But many, seem to fall from one idea to the next. I think I use it because much of her work seems to come in complete sentences.
More on Robert Hass' writing in another post.