Book Expo America, the annual trade show for the analog information-delivery devices known as “books,” is in town through tomorrow, though it’s easy to miss if you don’t take a cab anywhere near the Javits Center. Via Twitter, we learned that poet Kim Addonizio was personally handing out free blue cotton candy along with galleys of her new book of stories, Palace of Illusions.
Addonizio’s credits read like a laundry list of very expensive lingerie: two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Book Award nomination for Tell Me, and a Pushcart Prize. In person, Addonizio is devilishly charming. She proved unrattled in an environment that lends itself to rattling (book conference attendees are notoriously rabid in pursuit of free books and other schwag). We found out that she’s now living on the Bowery, and caught up with her at an industry event at Le Poisson Rouge to talk about city life, her new book, and her talented family.
Living here is like being kissed by a prince after a long sleep. The Bay Area is a lovely dream but I was feeling a little stuck; something needed to change. A friend got a job here with the Hunger Project (which I now volunteer for) and wanted a roommate; I packed a couple of suitcases and here I am, I feel, suddenly at the center of the universe.
As in New York, there’s a lot of creative energy in Oakland—a lot of artists moved there after San Francisco was overrun by the tech crowd and the cost of living shot up. And it’s diverse, economically and racially. I’m actually getting a little homesick now…
I’m still wide-eyed every minute here. There’s a lot of stimulation—like my brain is being tattooed. A constant buzzing, endorphins sloshing around. I love walking out the door and being in the middle of things rather than having to drive to them. Feeling connected to the world, being constantly amazed—those are good things for an artist. As is solitude. Some days I just don’t go out, because it’s too much.
My Guitar Won’t Speak to Me
I haven’t touched it for days.
All it does is sleep in its case
like a stringed vampire.
Its friends are hanging like hams
in a store down the street.
Guitars, like hearts, can be anything.
Many are migratory swans.
Some hiss like snakes,
others honk loudly to attract
a mate. To bake a swan,
start by scalding it. Remove
the bones and parboil. To break
another’s heart, sponge it with tepid water.
It is inadvisable to break your guitar
unless you are a guitar god,
in which case go ahead and smash
your subjects with the impunity
befitting a god, all the while reminding them
how much you love them
as long as they do what you say.
My guitar never weeps
but it often moans, thinking of light
thinning in a hospital gown. A guitar,
like a heart, has a hole in it
by which it heaves its music
weightless into the air
and relieves despair. I think I would like
to reconcile with my guitar now
and play a little song just for you.
Hey, I know a lot of people who pay attention to books. But I know what you mean. It’s like—read a book, or binge-watch “Orphan Black”? I’m addicted to my Netflix. Books, though—soul food. Oh, the cotton candy: it’s on the cover of my book, so I thought it would be fun to spread a little sugar around.
The Palace of Illusions is a book of stories, so, really, the carnival people are under their own little tent, and The Portable Nietzsche is in another, being read by a guy in a bar on Halloween. Well, there is a theme: all the stories are in some way about the illusions that sustain us and the ones that get in our way. Often they’re the same thing. But there are lots of ways to spin that basic human story. So, there’s an eight-year old girl, a sixty-something cancer survivor, a half-vampire college student, some artists in a love triangle, a few dwarfs in a cult waiting for Snow White… you know, the usual.
Your daughter, Aya Cash, is having a rush of success at the moment, following up The Wolf of Wall Street with You’re the Worst. How different is it for her trying to make it as an artist than it’s been for you?
Yeah, Aya is doing really well right now. You’re the Worst starts airing on FX in late July. One thing, for her, has been having parents who get it. Mine didn’t. Aya knew from an early age she wanted to act, and her dad and I were totally supportive. When she moved to New York we were like, “Let us help you out! You’re an artist!”—and she wanted to be self-sufficient. We sometimes had to force a little money on her. But as everyone knows, it’s tougher than ever to make a living. Her focus and dedication are huge. Maybe she got that from me. I definitely got it from my mother, who was a tennis champion.
The short answer is that I moved to San Francisco, where becoming a poet wasn’t a completely insane thing to do. And my dad was still a writer; when he wasn’t sitting in a bar, he was sitting at the kitchen table writing his column.
Bradley Spinelli (@13_Spinelli) is the author of “Killing Williamsburg.”