I do!  And it’s still “Silk” in my book.

I’ve used it in a couple of my classes at Marist College, and I’ve written about a few of the poems in the collection.  I have to be honest; it’s a phenomenal poetry book and a raw and moving verse novel for adults.  Even Addonizio’s “sequel” to Jimmy & Rita (BOA Editions, 1997), her novel My Dreams Out in the Street, (Simon & Schuster, 2007) just doesn’t live up to the wonderful language and uncontrived story of her verse novel. 

Addonizio’s Jimmy & Rita quickly moves us through the love of two characters, using one- or two-paged poems to tell stories, capture character traits, and convey situations or scenes that deal with Jimmy’s and Rita’s lives.  At about midway through the collection, Addonizio places a poem titled “Silk.”  In this poem, the poet uses dialogue exclusively between her main characters to reveal a truth of mortality: that no matter who we are or what we do, we will all face death and accept or deny it individually.

The lives of Jimmy and Rita shown throughout Addonizio’s book reveal youth, fearlessness, and spontaneity.  However, almost as a slow reprieve amid the surrounding quickness of each “exterior” poem, “Silk” provides us with a longer resonance, an “interior” communication of some mirror images of youth, fearlessness, and spontaneity.  “Silk” conveys death, fear, and reflection/contemplation. 

We see Jimmy and Rita discussing death, sharing their fear of it, and reflecting on their beliefs in what the “afterlife” means to them.  Using lines only of dialogue throughout this poem—which is the only dialogue-only poem of the entire collection—Addonizio captures universal human conditions through the conversation of two lost souls, her main characters. 

The poem begins with Jimmy’s question to Rita, “Rita.  You ever think about dying?” (line 1).  Jimmy is serious even though he has lived his life vicariously up until this point and will continue to do so throughout the rest of the book. 

He initiates a conversation with Rita about mortality, subtly admitting his concern for something other than parties, sex, and good times.  Here we see seriousness through an intimate, intellectual, and spiritual interaction between the main characters.  Rita responds to Jimmy’s question:

I don’t like to. […]

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Diane [Rita’s best friend] told me once to imagine a bird holding a silk scarf in its

beak and brushing it across the top of a mountain.  As long as it takes the scarf to wear down the mountain, that’s how many times

we come back. (2, 15-18)

Rita shares a profound image and idea with Jimmy as their conversation focuses not only on death and dying but also on the possibility of existence after death.  To present these very serious matters of mortality, Addonizio skillfully uses an intimate scene held together by dialogue.  If the poet had presented the age-old questions of death and the afterlife amid any of the other poems in her book, it would have been cliché. 

Throughout the collection, especially before “Silk,” before we realize that Jimmy and Rita really do have normal, legitimate concerns about life, any mention of dying is skewed with a single voice of fearlessness coming from either Rita or Jimmy.[1] 

Even in “Her Voice,” where Rita talks of Jimmy’s restless nights in which “[h]e wakes up […] sure / he’s dying, the air close, / panic making it harder / just to breathe” (12-15), Addonizio captures the fear of mortality almost from afar as Rita witnesses only what she thinks Jimmy feels. 

In “Silk” the interaction of Jimmy and Rita is real, so is their conversation about dying and what may lie beyond the physical.  They speak to each other, question each other’s beliefs, and come to their own terms, whether it is to accept or deny the inevitable end. 

As Jimmy and Rita move closer together on a more intimately spiritual level, the conversation slows; the words are more reserved and polite.  Jimmy suggests, “Rita. […] / Let’s not die” (24, 26).  Her comforting response, “Go to sleep, baby.  We won’t” (27), ends the discourse. 

This intertwining of empathy and emotion works because of dialogue.  The rhythm slows because of dialogue, and we realize that if two young, careless free spirits ponder the inevitable, we have no choice but to question our own mortality as well. 

Addonizio has captured not only the harshness of street life in Jimmy & Rita, but she has also planted a profound sense of spiritual awareness within “Silk,” the book’s core.

If you’ve never read this book, I suggest you read it soon! 

And please let us know your favorite verse novel(s).  I’m still looking for the gutsy ones…


[1] This can be seen in “Dead Men,” page 17.

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By Theresa Senato Edwards

Mark Doty’s book School of the Arts (New York: HarperCollins, 2005; London: Jonathan Cape, 2005) is a delightful array of thought-provoking poems, some of which tell great stories. His “Letter to God,” in particular, has a great underlying story about why dogs sniff each other’s rear ends.

In fact, Doty’s thematic thread in this book is dogs: his perception of dogs, especially his own pets. To write “the poetry of dogs” with so much insight into their nature and instinct is not an easy task, yet Doty masterfully shares with his readers some truly profound realities and even absurd possibilities of dogs, to Doty, a rare species.

There is one series, “The Vault,” that almost doesn’t fit because of its sexual nature (most of the other poems are not sexual). However, it makes its way among the others, showing an animalistic nature of humans, another species visited in this book.

More specifically, I begin to understand the collection as a whole when I see the mixture of instincts, both human and animal. One poem, in particular, that really elaborates on this mix is Doty’s “The Pink Poppy.” This piece is inspiring, as it takes the concept of beauty (what could be considered cliché) and explodes its meaning into places never gone before in quite the way that Doty writes them—places engulfed by human, animal, and even plant instincts.

Doty uses distinct imagery to open up all possibilities to write unconventionally about beauty. And he floods the page with the color and strength of the poppy, showing its own form of beauty in relation to the frail innocence of his dog, which Doty also sees as beautiful. Doty writes:

     Poor Arden’s [his dog] hiding under my desk;
     when the thunder comes he seems to constrict himself,
     and then a few moments later he’s breathing heavily,

     deaf as he is, holding himself taut in vigilance.
     The poppy’s erect
     and undulant in the rain;

     a sort of terrestrial jellyfish,
     wavering blot like a shape on an old film,
     light spot in the eye after something bright,

     ragged central polyp of seed
     —dark nipple-colored anemone—
     held up like a sexual display . . .

     Blake: Exuberance is Beauty. (lines 18-30)

Along side Doty’s dog, Arden, we see the triumph of the poppy as Doty’s metaphors paint not only a colorful picture but also share with readers the fact that strength and acceptance of place are beautiful. Unlike Arden, who in his instinctive innocence, tries to remove himself from the storm, the poppy accepts its place and remains beautiful despite its surrounding elements. To Doty, the poppy displays a true sense of exuberance—a youthful energy that can physically withstand certain circumstances —as he ends this section quoting William Blake’s definition of beauty.

And Doty builds from these images, using metaphor to present other forms of beauty that are linked to instinct. He reminds us about time and our instinct to question its hold on life:

     Dangerous, to hate the thing that brings you all of this:
     that flower wouldn’t blaze if time didn’t burn,

     my golden dog rusting now under the roof of the garden
     wouldn’t have been either—no flecked ruffle
     of the jowl, inner lip pink and loose . . .

     And Arden: old pink muzzle sniffing now at the rain.

     Brief, but no one wishes it never. (41-47)

The flower cannot question time; it only becomes more beautiful before dying because of time. Doty’s dog, too, cannot query what time has done to his body and his stamina. Therefore, the dog, like the poppy accepts the circumstances. Even the instinct of humans is to accept time’s burning motion. Like the lifespan of the flower and the dog, our lives, too, may be considered “[b]rief, but no one wishes it never.” No one who has truly seen and felt the beauty that Doty writes of in this poem wishes to argue the dichotomy of time’s existence: that with time an essence grows aware and becomes beautiful, yet with time that life also becomes frail and dies.

We can accept the dualism in this poem, in particular, because of Doty’s use of metaphor. He understands our instinct to question the attributes of time, yet because time is an abstraction, Doty provides us with clear pictures of the poppy, his dog, even the rain. His lines are clear, and his comparisons unique. We accept what Doty says about beauty, and he does not rehash age-old philosophies. He compares the simplest of life—a flower’s short show of exuberance and a dog’s aging—to the most profound—acceptance of death and acceptance of life.

Works Cited

Doty, Mark. School of the Arts. New York: HarperCollins, 2005.

This poem can also be found in Doty’s book, Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems (New York: HarperCollins, April, 2008),  for which he won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2008. 

New chapbook moves us

December 6, 2009

Christine Klocek-Lim’s chapbook, How to photograph the heart, has just been released from The Lives You Touch Publications, and it’s a wonderful collection that stings and calms us at the same time. 

Klocek-Lim has been my friend for a few years, and her poem “Endearment” was featured in HRR’s June 2009 issue.  But she is so much more! 

She is a wonderful poet, photographer, and editor (her online poetry journal, Autumn Sky Poetry, is superb).  She’s also a great mother and wife, and I’m sure she “plays” many other roles as well.  She’s an inspiration!

You can find her book here: The Lives You Touch Publications.  You can also find links to it in HRR’s WONDER Issue.  Here’s one on our News Page

It would make a wonderful gift this holiday season, as it shares so much hope amid the raw reality that comes with loving, losing, and remembering.

The title poem,

How to photograph the heart

You remember how the lens squeezed
unimportant details into stillness:
the essential trail of rain down glass,
the plummet of autumn-dead leaves,
your grandfather’s last blink when
the breath moved on.
Your startled hands compressed
the shutter when you realized: this is it,
this is the last movement he will take
away from the silent fall of morphine,
beyond the soft gasp of the nurse,
past the sick, slow thud of your heart
moving in the luminous silence.            

 ~Christine Klocek-Lim

Please check it out, and let us know what you think!

The very best to everyone, and HAPPY HOLIDAYS from Holly Rose Review!