The Great Poem Series: Kim Addonizio’s “Verities”

First published in Poetry Magazine, Kim Addonizio’s “Verities” was selected for the 2006 edition of Best American Poetry. In “Verities”, Addonizio uses witty wordplay to alter the meaning of commonly used proverbs from inciting positive messages to negative ones.

The word “verity” is defined as “the state or quality of being true; accordance with fact or reality.” This was the first reason that I was attracted to the poem. After reading the title, I expected to read something that might seem like common knowledge. Instead, I was left extremely confused. Addonizio changes commonly used phrases to give them an opposite meaning, turning them into what she thought was true.

While she clearly sees life in a negative light, Addonizio does not give an explanation for the reasoning behind her thought process. From the start, she hops right into her negative attitude, as she begins the poem by changing the phrase “into each life some rain must fall” to “into every life a little ax must fall”. Initially, the phrase starts positively, stating that everyone will face some adversity, but one persevere through it. Addonizio, on the other hand, changes the phrases meaning from having a sort of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” message to an extremely negative one that is essentially saying, “whatever kills you kills you”. When I understood what Addonizio had done with the first line, I was drawn into the rest of the poem.

Aside from the witty aspect that Addonizio brings to the table with her personal versions of these phrases, the style in which she writes also makes it attractive to the reader. The poem consists of eight proverbs in nine lines and nothing else, with every line being very concise and matter of fact, allowing little room for distractions. This is a positive aspect of the poem because everything she says is relevant to the point she is trying to make. Because of this, unlike many poems, she does not allow the reader to try and come up with other meanings to her words. I found this extremely appealing because so often in poetry, poets’ messages are so unclear to the point that the reader can come up with a thousand different plausible options for what the poem means, often ending up lost and confused. From start to finish, Addonizio maintains a single tone. While she maintains clarity in the message of the poem, she does not give the reader a reason for her mindset, and by doing s0, she allows the reader to decide for himself the reasoning behind her thoughts. This vague and mysterious aspect of the poem also makes it much more complex and enticing to me. I believe that Addonizio has changed the meaning of these proverbs because she does not think that the world that we live in today is as simple and positive as many proverbs make it seem.

Personally, my favorite part of the poem comes in the last two lines. Addonizio takes two phrases, “a stitch in time saves nine” and “the darkest hour is just before dawn”, and perfectly twists them around to align with her negative tone of the poem. As she says, “a stitch in time saves no one,” she shows that no one is worthy of having a positive outlook, and that this negative outlook on life applies to everyone. In the last line of the poem, Addonizio leaves the reader hanging with a ominous cliffhanger when she says “the darkest hour comes”. To me, this was the best line of the poem because it makes the reader think about what “comes”. I believe that Addonizio is saying that the world is becoming a worse and worse place, and that in the near future, the world will grow even darker.

In the Contributors’ Notes, found in the back of Best American Poetry, Kim Addonizio provides a brief explanation for the thoughts that led to the creation of this poem. She explains that many of the proverbs that she is “familiar with were reassuring”, but when she watched the news, she realized that the world was a much colder place than many people make it appear (151). While the poem has a joking tone at times, this statement shows that it is truly serious at heart. As I thought about this issue, I realized that almost every story on the news is negative, and that maybe we don’t see the world in a realistic light when we use those seemingly uplifting proverbs.

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