Arts & Culture · Poetry

Poetry Sunday: 'Lucifer at the Starlite,' by Kim Addonizio

The message is dark, so what makes the poem so wickedly funny? One is its irreverence—how it deflates the power and importance of something sacred; such insouciance makes readers uncomfortable in a way that invites a nervous laugh. Second is Satan’s flagrant irony. HE knows that WE know that the things he represents as “good”—war, pollution, moral turpitude—are not good at all, but the one who doesn’t seem to know it (or to know that we know it) is the absent God. Even the idea of an absent God is seditious and funny, especially as here where he is depicted as looting his offshore accounts and going on the lam to get away from the mess he’s made. The idea of God as “mist” is an old one, going back even further perhaps than to Jupiter’s assuming that form to seduce Semele. But notice how the addition of just one word, the consonant adverb “mostly,” changes the idea of God-as-mist into something ironically funny. He’s “mostly mist” because he (in contrast to Satan, a “regular” at the bar) is almost never present in the flesh, insubstantial and evasive.
One thing I find fascinating about Addonizio’s poem is the way it simultaneously communicates two perspectives—the speaker’s (Satan’s) and the author’s. While Satan is pleased with and even gloats about the state of affairs on earth, one senses the presence of another point of view that feels only rage. The parody form provides a vehicle in which to express anger not just against the way things are but also against the hypocrisy of poems like Meredith’s that keep insisting that God is Good and Everything Happens For A Reason. Addonizio will have none of it. She exposes the hypocrisy of viewpoints like Meredith’s both by copying and subverting the traditional God-Is-Great sonnet and also by having Satan speak with the blatant casuistry of—well, let’s not get into current presidential politics. Meredith’s poem ostensibly ends with Satan’s defeat and Addonizio’s with Satan’s gloating triumph, but it is in the latter that I feel the real human despair.  
Sonnets, as I have mentioned in previous columns, are frequently distinguished by wordplay, both in sound and sense, and in these respects Addonizio’s sonnet fulfills expectations. Or I should say exceeds them, because this poem shows an astonishing virtuosity with words and language; pick nearly any line and you will find examples of alliteration and internal rhyme. In line 1, for example, “bright” is assonant with the first syllable of “idea” and also with “life,” and in a kind of sophisticated sight gag, the “ea” dipthong of “idea” repeats in “earth.” For other examples of alliteration, see “care; I come” (line 4), “real regular” (5), and “mostly mist” (8). There are also many instances of repetition of sounds across lines, as in the near rhymes of “grinding / through sand” in lines 6-7 and “host/who’s mostly” in lines 7-8. The tour de force, though, may well be in the way Addonizio salts the meat of the form with vernacular and pop culture references, depicting God as “management” and Satan as a barfly, “a real regular.” The poem is in-your-face irreverent, funny, enraged, and darkly despairing all at once—a potent, sizzling mix that generates sparks that can sear you; in other words, vintage Addonizio.
 

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Paradise Drive book coverRebecca Foust’s fifth book, “Paradise Drive,” won the 2015 Press 53 Award for Poetry and was reviewed in the Georgia Review, Hudson Review, Huffington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Review of Books, and elsewhere. Recognitions include the 2015 American Literary Review Award for Fiction, the 2015 James Hearst Poetry Prize, the 2014 Constance Rook Creative Nonfiction Award, and fellowships from the Frost Place, MacDowell Colony, Sewanee Writer’s Conference, and West Chester Poetry Conference. “Paradise Drive” can be ordered at www.press53.com. For more information visit rebeccafoust.com.
 

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  • Sally Bliumis-Dunn August 14, 2016 at 3:36 pm

    Feels like a collection of these poems and essays would make a great book. Just sayin’.

    Reply
  • Sally Bliumis-Dunn August 14, 2016 at 3:36 pm

    Feels like a collection of these poems and essays would make a great book. Just sayin’.

    Reply
  • Sally Bliumis-Dunn August 14, 2016 at 3:27 pm

    Really enjoyed both Kim’s poem and the careful commentary. This Sunday Poem will make good teaching fodder for those at a college level. Thank you, Becky.

    Reply
  • Sally Bliumis-Dunn August 14, 2016 at 3:27 pm

    Really enjoyed both Kim’s poem and the careful commentary. This Sunday Poem will make good teaching fodder for those at a college level. Thank you, Becky.

    Reply
  • Sherry Donovan August 14, 2016 at 10:29 am

    Thank you,Rebecca Foust for sharing Addonizio’s poetry this morning. Stunning, thought provoking, it stays with you.

    Reply
  • Sherry Donovan August 14, 2016 at 10:29 am

    Thank you,Rebecca Foust for sharing Addonizio’s poetry this morning. Stunning, thought provoking, it stays with you.

    Reply
  • Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. August 14, 2016 at 8:38 am

    Well, this is certainly a Sunday poem that produces thought! Becky,
    thank you for introducing me to this unsettling poem and to its author. I am ordering her books now. We are so very fortunate to have you as our Poetry Editor where you teach and expand the knowledge of average readers who want to read poetry in more substantial ways. Thank you.

    Reply
  • Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. August 14, 2016 at 8:38 am

    Well, this is certainly a Sunday poem that produces thought! Becky,
    thank you for introducing me to this unsettling poem and to its author. I am ordering her books now. We are so very fortunate to have you as our Poetry Editor where you teach and expand the knowledge of average readers who want to read poetry in more substantial ways. Thank you.

    Reply