Kim Addonizio’s Tell Me

Review:

Tell Me - Kim Addonizio

Kim Addonizio knows how to write about desire–for sex, for drink, for the act of desiring itself. Billy Collins’s blurb for Tell Me compares the poems to barroom ballads, and if bedroom ballads were a thing, that would be apt, too. I love reading about hunger, women’s hunger in particular, and the strength and specificity of the hunger in these poems prevent them from feeling like wallowing. But if you’re lonely, they’ll still keep you company.

 

I found “‘What Do Women Want?'” here and use it in class to help students think about word precision and tone. It’s full of attitude and sensuality, like much of the book. It’s from the last section, “Good Girl,” which, along with the opening section, is my favorite. I was less engaged by the two middle sections, perhaps because I’ve never gone through a divorce, been a mother, or struggled with alcohol. Or perhaps the opening and closing sections have more attitude.

 

These poems are clear, longer-lined, mostly a page or less; they sprawl conversationally or punch like an outburst. There are no poetic games trying to hide the truth from you as a reader. They tell you things like a compulsion.

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eevilalice.booklikes.com/post/1361857/kim-addonizio-s-tell-me

Kim Addonizio’s Tell Me

Jamaal May’s Hum

Review:

Hum - Jamaal May

I stumbled across May’s work hunting around for spring-themed poems on poetryfoundation.org to use in my class and instantly fell in love. I ordered Hum and have been leisurely enjoying it, sometimes reading a poem or two at a time, sometimes a chunk of poems. There isn’t a poem in this book I don’t like or one without a lovely, fresh image.

 

What drew me to May’s work when I first encountered it was a complex love for Detroit, for the mechanical and the urban (that term has been ruined as code for black). These become like flowers in a Wordsworth poem, as natural. There’s also something terribly tender throughout the book, and kind. There’s sadness or fear, but no real despair (as in, these poems will never depress you or let you wallow in your own misery). Many last lines stunned me, but not in a way that slams the door shut on the poem.

 

Hum is also formally beautiful; there are literal forms, like the sestina, but everywhere it’s evident May has a great eye for the line and for sound. That seems an obvious quality in poetry, but I’m surprised how often I’m disappointed by the craft of poems by contemporary poets. Often they’re inert in their formality; that’s never the case here.

 

If you don’t read contemporary poetry, this book would be a great place to start.

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Jamaal May’s Hum

The First Time Rats Saw God

Review:

Rats Saw God - Rob Thomas

Rob Thomas is known to me first and foremost as the creator of Veronica Mars and its titular heroine, one of my favorite television shows and characters. If I had to choose one character that I wished were real, it would be Veronica. That’s saying a lot; I love countless fictional characters to distraction.

 

A highlight of the show is Veronica’s caustic wit. Other characters are funny (e.g. Logan, Mac), but there’s something about a tiny, blonde, teenage girl who used to be on the pep squad cutting people down to size with a sharp tongue (or bantering with her father, friends, or boyfriends)–after suffering the murder of her best friend, the abandonment of her mother, the destruction of her father’s reputation, and rape–that is unique and paradoxically pleasing for a female character especially.

 

Rats Saw God and its protagonist, Steve York, display the same jaded wit, and it’s the best feature of the book. Before VM, Thomas wrote YA novels, and his grasp of high school and teenage life is strong. He taught high school journalism, and his experience is evident.

 

Like Veronica, Steve has recently gone through some shit (less serious than Veronica, but just as devastating, and, as I like to say, suffering is not a competition). The conceit of the book is that in the present, Steve is doing horribly; he’s a stoner flunking out despite obvious intelligence and past academic success. He is on the verge of not graduating and must somehow make up his English credit. His guidance counselor asks him to write 100 pages (unthinkable for a high schooler–hell, for an undergrad), in chunks each week, of anything he likes. Steve complies, so the flashbacks to how Steve got where he is take the form of his first person writing.

 

The back-and-forth between present and past comes in quick bites, generally. We’re to understand that writing is helping Steve move on from what happened back in Houston (I won’t spoil what that is, but from the beginning it’s clear it has to do with his then girlfriend, Dub, and his father, whom Steve refers to as “the astronaut,” after his famous profession). The progression wasn’t always clear to me (like how and why Steve became interested in another girl in the present), and I found myself more engaged by the past. When the source of Steve’s heartbreak is revealed, it’s upsetting, but given the nature of the shock, it feels unexplored. Steve and Dub never deal with each other significantly face-to-face either. While this makes sense given Steve’s character especially, it still left me hanging. I could’ve used another 50 pages.

 

If you’re a VM fan, you’ll recognize the book’s title (in the book’s context, it’s part of the coveted yearbook photo for Steve’s extracurricular, GOD–Grace Order of Dadaists), referenced in season two. You’ll also recognize the name of Steve’s girlfriend, Wanda Varner, who goes by “Dub,” from a season one episode in which that Wanda ran for student president but lost and also turned out to be a snitch. She’s not the most trustworthy here either, but that doesn’t mean you don’t like her until the end.

 

Thomas’s protagonists tend to be whip-smart and jaded. For me, this is ultimately much more interesting when that character is a girl.

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The First Time Rats Saw God