Addonizio – Ordinary Genius

ordinary-genius-Words as Tools

Addonizio, Kim (2009). Ordinary genius: A guide for the poet within. New York: W.W.Norton.

Poet Addonizio describes her process of creating poetry, supplemented with description of other possible methods, and plenty of fine examples.  She recommends everyone memorize a poem by heart, such as a Shakespeare sonnet, because in the process you will come to understand it, and thereafter you will always have it for your pleasure and inspiration.

There are good discussions of how to observe keenly, working with metaphor and humor, making use of fairy tales and myths, mastering meter, and the process of revision.  It’s all solid, well-articulated advice, none of it too simple for even the most experienced writer.

While I am an appreciator of poetry, I am intimidated by it.  I thought if I had a better understanding of the craft of writing poetry, it would help my fiction writing.  That strategy was only partially successful. I do not share the author’s fascination with words for their own sake. I like ideas. Words are tools for expressing ideas. I appreciate words for their rarity or complexity or sonority, but what I wanted to know is how to find better words for ideas. Perhaps that is something that cannot be taught.

I did get a few helpful tips.  For example, this exercise was useful: “Study an object closely and think about its inner life.”  That’s a great way to slow down, even stop time, which, it seems, is necessary to get inside any idea. Another section, on “waking up clichés,” was also helpful. Take a cliché like “love stinks,” interpret it literally, then reconstruct it, as in “I passed by a dumpster full of love and held my nose.”  That’s a technique I can use.

However, when it comes to the crucial question of how, or from where, do you get the fur on the ball-turret gunner, there is no clue. Perhaps that can only come from poetic genius, whereas this book is about ordinary genius.

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner
Randall Jarrell
From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.


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