Columns by Kim Addonizio

How I Found Poetry


When I was young and living with my parents, my father still alive and my mother also young, though I was too young then to understand how young she really was—when I was a girl and did not yet have a girl myself—when I was a young girl, my lovely living father owned a copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The book had a brown leather cover, its title was gold-stamped, and so it was exotic. My father read to me from that book: The Moving finger writes, and having writ, / Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit / Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, / Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it. And in his voice that I found beautiful, my young and beautiful father said A loaf of bread a jug of wine and I could nearly taste the bread’s sun-warm crust and didn’t yet know the taste of wine or what it meant to have a beloved. That book, those words, that afternoon when we were all so young: maybe that was the start.

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A Design Against Darkness


Sometimes the world seems to me utterly random, possibly malevolent, and therefore frightening. I always go back to Robert Frost’s sonnet, “Design” which closes, “What but design of darkness to appall?—/ If design govern in a thing so small.

When I read this poem, I end up feeling oddly comforted. Someone else was asking the same questions, feeling the chill, getting it down in language. Someone was fashioning a poem. A design against darkness.

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Read This


When I first read Keats’ poem, “Ode to a Nightingale,” I didn’t understand it. I was blown away, and I didn’t know why. “Was it a vision, or a waking dream? / Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?”—those are the last lines of the poem. After reading them, I felt as though an electric current was running through me. I didn’t know what certain words in the poem meant, like “Hippocrene.” I didn’t know exactly what Keats was saying about hearing this bird singing, or why, at one point, he wrote about wanting to die. Later, I memorized that poem because I loved it so much. As I memorized and reread it, more of its meanings unfolded.

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