Mortal Trash: Poems

Image of Mortal Trash: Poems
Release Date: 
June 27, 2016
W. W. Norton & Company
Reviewed by: 

For many years W. W. Norton employed one of the best poetry editors in the country. Carol Houck Smith who died in 2008 worked at Norton for sixty years. During that time she was the editor for such outstanding poets as Stanley Kunitz, Rita Dove, Maxine Kumin, and A. Van Jordan. It was Smith who encouraged people to “ read with your ears as well as your eyes.”

This is good advice when reading Mortal Trash by Kim Addonizio. Addonizio has had an outstanding career as a poet. She joins an “anthology” of Norton writers whose work shape our literary landscape.

There is kinetic energy in many of Addonizio’s poems. This is created by images that play tag, hopscotch, DoubleDutch from one line to the other. There can be a surprise similar to what one might find in a James Tate poem. Maybe we should accept Addonizio the way we praise Frank O’Hara. Addonizio’s life is interesting and it is admirable that she mines it for subject matter. She is honest in the first line of “Scrapbook” the opening poem in Mortal Trash.

This is me, depressed out of my mind . . .

In our troubled times we have learned all lives matter. Unfortunately there is a raw sadness often trapped in each human’s breath. In “Stay Sparks” Addonizio writes:

The daughter looks at her drunk father

slumped in a hospital chair.

These words capture the intimacy of family life and how children become caretakers after being witnesses to years of heartbreak. The strength of Addonizio’s work lies in its observation and measurement of daily life. Her voice can be instructional as in “Manners.”

Yelling obscenities at the TV is okay,

as long as sports are clearly visible on the screen,

but it’s rude to mutter at the cleaning products in Safeway.

Reading the work of Kim Addonizio is like trying to get across town during rush hour. There are many good distracting lines in poem after poem. One will stop and laugh but can soon find yourself in a cab with the meter running.

Today many American writers seem to be stretching what a sonnet can do or say. The fourth section of Mortal Trash consists of fourteen sonnets. One can mistake the number of sonnets to be the seed in the middle of the avocado, or maybe just the pun. What should we call a sonnet? Even the lines outside the restrooms these days are fourteen people long. In other words the better Addonizio poems are the ones that don’t have to go.

Kim Addonizio is the type of poet we should all fall in love with. You want her work to be taught so that her audience will continue to grow. Her poems are even filled with advice for memoir writers. One will stop and smile in the middle of  “What to Save from the Fire.”

What about your journals-

pages of proof you never changed

no matter what the mirror tells you.

Years from now someone might lick

the ink and taste snow, cheap wine,

the grilled cheeses you ate with your mother

at the Woolworth’s counter.

The arrival of a new book of poems by Kim Addonizio brings joy to the ear and eye. One thinks of Carol Houck Smith probably responding this way when receiving a manuscript from a Kunitz or a Dove.

In Mortal Trash, Addonizio presents a number of gems different from the type of work her readers have come to expect. One is “Dream the Night My Brother Dies.” It’s a short poem about grief and loss and the oceans of weeping that too often drown us. Here we find Addonizio doing what good poets do. She lays bare her heart so that others may continue to live.