Q&A with Poet and Memoirist Kim Addonizio

Photo by Lin Tan

Photo by Lin Tan

If you’ve been following the most recent Champlain Publishing news, you probably know that there are some pretty cool events heading your way. We’re teaming up with the Division of Communication and Creative Media Speaker Series to bring you the celebrated poet Kim Addonizio. On Monday, October 3 at 7PM, she’ll be reading from her two latest books, Mortal Trash and Bukowski in a Sundress: Confessions from a Writing Life and chatting with students in Alumni Auditorium. She might even treat us to some music with her trusty blues harmonica.

This weekend, as Kim practiced guitar at home in Oakland, California, she took a break to curl up with one of her cats and chat with me. One of the things I learned: Kim Addonizio may live with two cats, but she’s actually a secret dog person—she’s a particular fan of small dogs. Want to know more? You’re in luck! Read on to see a bit of our conversation:


JD: How has formal training in writing impacted you and your career as a writer?


KA: Well, I got a Master’s in creative writing, not an MFA. But I learned a lot in graduate school. One thing about the degree, either an undergraduate or graduate degree, is that it’s sort of the beginning of something. I think most of my training came afterwards, but it was a good start. It’s not the end when you get your degree. So I think it’s great to have that training, and I think it’s important to just go on and realize that if you’re going into a writing career, it’s just the beginning.


JD: As I was reading Bukowski in a Sundress, I noticed that the women in your family are particularly successful at the things that they choose to do. You write that your mother was a tennis player and your daughter is an actress and of course you have several books yourself. It’s such an interesting trend. Can you talk a little about that?


KA: It is! I don’t know why that’s true but it is. My mom was really, really good at what she did. She was one of the best in the world. So I guess that was a good example for me. My mom was very determined and I was very determined to become a writer. And then my daughter Aya was very determined to become an actor. And to become a successful actor even though they don’t make much money. But now she’s doing really well. She just decided she was going to be an artist and make money and I kept saying, “Honey, that’s not going to work out so well.” But it’s worked out fine for her. She’s on the show You’re the Worst. Their third season is airing right now on FXX. I guess it’s because I had a good role model for determination and persistence. And I think my daughter did too.


JD: You play the blues harmonica and and in your essay, “A Word of It,” you talk about how you were originally pursuing music. What drew you to writing instead?


KA: I’ve ended up still pursuing music. But when I first discovered poetry, it was really just so much more compelling to me than music, so I shifted directions. Just all of a sudden there was another road and I went down that road instead. And then later I took up harmonica, but I also play flute and guitar. So music has just been a part of my life for a long time. I left it alone for a while when I got serious about poetry, but then it kind of came back, and now I have both, which is really nice.


JD: So do you still play music regularly?


KA: Yeah, I play at my readings sometimes. I did that more for an earlier book I did on blues poems, but I also play for writing audiences. I have a couple of bands that are sort of loose, casual bands, mostly of other poets, that I play with once in awhile. We do shows. But it’s more of an “Okay, we’re going to be at this conference. Let’s get together and work on some things and put together a show.” It can be part music and part words in music. I really like word/music collaboration and doing poetry with music, or doing poetry with musicians. I have a couple word music CDs out. I may bring a bunch of them to Champlain and give some away.


JD: Yeah, please do. Music is really big with a lot of our students. I personally find that I like to hear poetry. I like reading it, but it seems somehow more powerful when you hear it.


KA: Yeah, there’s something magic that happens when you hear it aloud. I think part of it is that we all liked being read to as kids and falling asleep to a story. And hopefully people don’t fall asleep at readings, but I really like listening and just being told a story. Something magic happens when it’s alive in the air.


JD: What do you most want the students who come to your reading to take away?


KA: I hope we all have a good experience together. That’s what a reading is. It’s when you’re all in the same place and you’re all kind of somewhat having the same experience even though everybody is having their own response. So first of all, I just hope that it’s something that they enjoy. It’s something to do for fun and pleasure and not something you have to suffer through. So I hope we all have a good time, and at the same time maybe get a chance to have some authentic moments together.