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At her best, Addonizio blends life and movie clichés, so that both make pressing observations on the other. In "Dead Girls," one of the book's most overtly feminist pieces, she wonders at the pervasiveness of young female corpses in movies, lying murdered as detectives "lift their photos off pianos / in the houses they almost grew up in" (45). "Noir" starts as a reflection on John Garfield, but soon finds the speaker and her dinner/movie companions coming out into "a movie set rain":
reluctant to part, the women buttoning their coats,
the men lowering the brims of their fedoras,
everybody finally dispersing into the night. (54)
Still better, I think, are Addonizio's conscious reflections on how poems themselves aspire to the condition of other works of art. At least that would seem to have to be the theme of a poem called "This Poem Wants to Be a Rock and Roll Song So Bad":
It wants you to listen to it over and overThis is just brilliant; what the rock song wants in its gaucherie is, after all, what every song, every poem wants: to solder itself to your life so that you can't escape either its force or its false steps.
so that thirty years from now
whatever wayward idiocy you were up to
will come back glazed with nostalgia (98-99)
There's a lovely poem here that wanders in and out of a video game ("Bugdom") and another strong piece that seems to be participating in a twelve-step program ("This Poem Is in Recovery"). There's a poem that comes out of knocking a glass of milk onto someone else's poem, and a poem that lands its unprintable title on the page "like an anvil / falling through a skylight / to land on a restaurant table" (113), and quite right, too.
Of course, film noir and rock-&-roll and even video games are about love and death, and the word that falls like an anvil is the essence of love falling with murderous force. These poems never stray far from those Dickinsonian themes. In a previous incarnation, Addonizio's website claims, she was Edna Millay; Dana Gioia has compared her work to Millay's. The most Millay-like of the poems here, for me, is not any of the candle-burned-at-both-ends sex-and-death lyrics, but an awkward, almost apologetically framed piece called "Cat Poem" that doesn't even really make up its mind whose cat it's about: "no one wants to read about my pet," says the cat's owner, "so let's say it's your cat" (50). The cat is dying; the cat is loved. "My daughter named her / at five, now my daughter's grown" (51): childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies, Millay once announced in similarly languid free verse. It's a perfectly observed poem about pets, and a political poem about animal rights, and a poem about the embarrassments of writing. Like all the best writing, Addonizio's poem breaks free of those embarrassments – not by going around, but by going through.
Kim Addonizio. What Is This Thing Called Love. New York: Norton, 2004.