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Journey into Poetry: Victoria Addesso

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Journey into Poetry Victoria Addesso Tweetspeak Poetry

My mother’s heartbeat. Her first words to me. A lullaby. Each sound breathing with purpose, washing over me, connecting the beating heart with the rhythm of speech. And then, the gradual winding of words into meaning.

My father at the kitchen table, his hands holding the newspaper open wide. I peek around the pages. Only his eyes move. He is reading. I am in first grade and soon I, too, will wear that look of concentration. I, too, will be able to read the words that will tell me things and take me away from here.

I visit the small library on the third floor of my elementary school once a week and choose three books to take home. I go first to the shelf that holds the biographies. I pick one. I walk across the room. I’ve read all of the Bobbsey Twins, so I pick the first Happy Hollisters. Then I head to the small shelf that holds only a few books. Robert Frost, again.

I’m ten years old. I’m allowed to walk into town alone. It’s summer and I spend hours in the air-conditioned library. In the evenings I sit on my bed, writing a novel about a girl named Jane who lives in England.

I’m fourteen, and I begin writing daily in a blue journal with a butterfly on the cover. I record my days, muse on current events, whine, vent.

A year later I come home with Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth. My father sees it on the kitchen counter, picks it up and takes it with him upstairs. I am puzzled, but do not say anything. A few minutes later he comes back, my mother with him. He tells me I am not allowed to read that book. My mother’s brow is furrowed. I return the book in the morning. Visiting the library over the next couple of months, I slip it off the shelf and read it anyway.

The year I graduate from high school I see a film, The Bell Jar. I decide to read the book, and then to read the poetry of Sylvia Plath. On a trip to the shopping mall I visit the bookstore and buy my first book: Ariel. A thin paperback. I read it that night. I read it all summer long. I don’t understand the poems. The poems rip at my heart. I understand them perfectly. They make no sense.

In college I do not study literature. I major in art history. I sit in darkened lecture halls looking at slides of paintings and sculpture, and jot down ideas for poems and stories.

Years pass. I am Coordinator of Public Programs at the Neuberger Museum of Art. I am married. Three years later I am the mother of two sons. I am working part-time as a salesperson at Barnes & Noble; as a receptionist at a dentist’s office; as a personal assistant to a toy inventor.

I still write daily in the journal I began as a teenager. I’m still recording my days, musing on current events, whining, venting. But now, as an adult, I’m also playing with ideas for stories and poems.

In 1997 my mother dies. A year later I sign up for a memoir-writing workshop. At the first meeting, when asked to write for 15 minutes, I write about my mother.

I continue in the same memoir-writing workshop on and off with the same teacher and many of the same students. Spring of 2000. Again in the fall. I am writing, making progress, making friends. In the autumn of 2003 I register once more. But the following year I don’t sign up. Too busy. Can’t afford it. I’m fooling myself. I am not a writer.

In 2006 I get an e-mail from Susan, one of the woman from the workshop. She and Joan, our teacher, are starting a small writing group. They invite me, and Lori, another writer, to join. I accept.

In 2013 Joan, Susan, Lori, and I publish a book together, a collaborative memoir about our relationships with our mothers.

Today I am writing a poem. It begins with a heartbeat.

Image by Ginny. Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by Victoria Addesso, coauthor of Still Here Thinking of You: A Second Chance With Our Mothers.

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Your Comments

13 Comments so far

  1. LW Lindquist says:

    Vicki, love reading about your journey here.

    “Visiting the library over the next couple of months, I slip it off the shelf and read it anyway.” This made me chuckle. ;-)

    • Donna says:

      Ha ha yeah… I loved that part, too! :D

    • Vicki Addesso says:

      Thank you Lyla! I still think about that moment when my father and mother told me I couldn’t read Portnoy’s Complaint….I was so puzzled. My parents weren’t big readers so I don’t even know what they “knew” about the book at the time…and I never did ask them. And after that I made sure to put my library books up under my bed before they saw them.

  2. Donna says:

    It all begins with a heartbeat… I love how you begin and end with a heartbeat, and as a reader I feel this ending is really another beginning, rising up the spiral – ascending.

    And this… “I don’t understand the poems. The poems rip at my heart. I understand them perfectly. They make no sense.” This speaks to me … I have always felt this way about poetry but took it to mean that I somehow wasn’t allowed to read it, like I would be wasting the poem’s time or something silly like that. But now, if a poem makes me feel while in total confusion about the words I love it all the more. I’ve even allowed myself to write some that way (and keep them… and even share them sometimes).

    Thank you for sharing your heartbeats… :0)

    • Vicki Addesso says:

      Thank you so much for your comments, Donna. And yes, the heartbeat continues…
      It was so freeing for me also when I realized I don’t have to have poems “mean” something or “make sense” in order to enjoy them or have them speak to me…sometimes what we feel or experience in relation to a poem can’t be put into words, we have to just let it be.
      Write on, baby! And share!

  3. L.L. Barkat says:

    Vicki, this is wonderful. The ending caught my breath.

    Of course I especially loved:

    “He tells me I am not allowed to read that book. My mother’s brow is furrowed. I return the book in the morning. Visiting the library over the next couple of months, I slip it off the shelf and read it anyway.”

    Maybe all poets have a curious, secretive, even adventurous side :)

    • Vicki Addesso says:

      Thank you so much…and that paragraph about my father’s “book banning” is my favorite part of the piece…I am still so puzzled by his and my mom’s reaction.
      And I want you to know how much I am enjoying Love, Etc. – the poems are so varied and yet connected, it’s a journey through the world of love…

  4. “I don’t understand the poems. The poems rip at my heart. I understand them perfectly. They make no sense.”

    Oh and this… “I don’t sign up. Too busy. Can’t afford it. I’m fooling myself. I am not a writer.” Been there. It’s why I almost didn’t sign up for the current Storytelling Workshop.

    I read that several times. Thanks for letting us hear your heartbeat.

    • Vicki Addesso says:

      Thank you Sandra for reading and commenting.
      We are always our own worst critics – and censors. I am always struggling with doubt about my writing. Writer’s block is not so much an issue for me as writer’s doubt…”is it good enough for others to read?” “who cares about this anyway?” I am always granting myself permission to be a crappy writer!
      And the heart beats on…

  5. Marcy says:

    Vicki,
    Don’t you love how things in life come around in full circle in the end. After all you have done, wanted to do, experienced, you are where you were meant to be.

  6. Anthony Pittore says:

    Vicki, since, I was lucky enough to know both your Mom and Dad, I can really appreciate this poem! It was simply Beautiful!❤️


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