First Poem for You by Kim Addonizio explores intimacy, with the contrast between permanent and non-permanent concepts underlying the poem. Addonizio desires intimacy with her lover, yet knows that nothing can last forever. Even the great symbol of permanence, her lover’s tattoos, will eventually be destroyed. Addonizio worries the same fate will come to their own love, ‘trying’ to keep their relationship together.
Kim Addonizio traces her lover’s tattoos in the dark within First Poem for You, seeking an intimate connection through physical contact. The lack of visual light within the poem signals that she understands his body on an intuitive level, tracing the tattoos despite the darkness. She feels his pulse above the skin, establishing a connection through this intimate moment. Across the second stanza, she pulls him closer while thinking about how long ‘permanence’ can last – unsure about the stability of her own relationship.
You can read the full poem here.
Addonizio’s use of structure within First Poem for You is one of the most fascinating aspects of the poem. The poet employs a disrupted sonnet form, the poem measuring 14 lines while transforming many other aspects of the traditional sonnet form. Normally, a sonnet contains an octave (8 lines) and a sestet (6 lines), separated by a shift in tone named a Volta. Yet, Addonizio splits the poem into two equal stanzas of 7 each. In doing this, Addonizio is connecting with the sonnet form’s connotations of love and romance, while rejecting the perfection and idolization often depicted within this form.
Addonizio engages with the same themes, but morphs the structure of the sonnet to reflect the lack of harmony within her relationship, the disrupted structure becoming emblematic of their disconnection. She desires intimacy, displayed by the content and the engagement with the sonnet form, yet is unable to be truly content, a certain ‘darkness’ (perhaps her own mindset) preventing the poet from reaching happiness in her relationship.
Another technique, alongside the manipulation of the sonnet form, that Addonizio employs is caesura. In using caesura, Addonizio creates metrical disruption within individual lines, reflecting the larger sense of disharmony within the poem on a micro-level. The disruption of the meter can be understood as a reflection of her uncertainty within her relationship, always pausing tentatively.
The use of caesura is firmly contrasted with Addonizio’s use of enjambement. Enjambment speeds up the meter of the poem, the poetry flowing quickly from one line to another. When then coupled with caesura, Addonizio further disrupts the meter by shifting from quick spirits of flow into harsh caesura, creating a hesitant rhythm. These structural elements help to create the tone of the poem, Addonizio recounting the uncertainty within her relationship through the structure of the poem.
Analysis of First Poem for You
I like to touch your tattoos in complete(…)twists, facing a dragon. When I pull you
First Poem for You begins with the personal pronoun ‘I’, Addonizio engaging with the theme of intimacy by depicting the perspective of the poem from her own eyes. In doing this, Addonizio suggests the importance of her own emotions within the poem, the use of ‘I’ instantly focusing on an introspective analysis.
The idea that she ‘like[s] to touch’ suggests that this is something she has done many times before. Addonizio has touched ‘your tattoos’ and is familiar with this gesture. Yet, there is a certain ‘darkness’ within the poem, perhaps representing Addonizio’s lack of confidence that the relationship will last. The ‘darkness’ could alternatively suggest that she knows her lover’s body intimately, not needing a source of light to trace the lines on their body.
The use of caesura within the second line, ‘darkness, when I can’t see them. I’m’ implies a separation between the two lovers. There is something between them that they can’t quite get over, this becoming the central focus of Addonizio’s mind. Although she cannot completely confirm that their relationship will ‘persist’ like the ‘tattoos’ will, she is ‘sure of/where they are’, having been intimate with them several times. The use of enjambed across ‘sure of/where’ represents this sense of familiarity, the uninterrupted meter flowing peacefully from one line to another – metrically demonstrating her physical gesture.
The alliteration cross ‘lines of lightning’ furthers the sense of comfort the poet feels, the flowing /l/ calming the tone of First Poem for You. This couples with the ‘pulsing’ of her lover’s heart, the soothing aural qualities of the poem exuding a sense of calmness. This tone is then furthered by the focus of ‘swirls of water’, the tattoos on their body representing the internal peace that Addonizio feels in this moment of intimacy. Water, and flowing water, is a commonly known peaceful image, Addonizio tapping into this context.
Yet, alongside the uncertainty of ‘darkness’, the tattoos come to a head in ‘a dragon’. The use of a caesura after this observance furthers the sense of discomfort Addonizio feels, the poet drawing back subconsciously through her use of disruptive punctation. There is something between the lovers not fully expressed or understood.
to me, taking you until we’re spent(…)So I touch them in the dark; but touch them, trying.
Across the first and second stanza, Addonizio uses enjambment to represent the movement of ‘pull[ing] you// to me’. The flow of poetry from one stanza to another is emblematic of the two bodies coming together, Addonizio bringing her lover closer. The metrical break between the two stanzas, disrupting the sonnet form, could also foreshadow an eventual break of the couple, the split manifesting itself into their breakup.
Much of this second stanza focuses on the idea of ‘permanence’, with the prospect of the ‘tattoos’ lasting ‘until/ you’re seared to ashes’ being something that disquiets Addonizio. Perhaps due to the fact that she is slightly insecure in this relationship, ‘such permanence is terrifying’ to her, knowing that whatever happens ‘between us’, the tattoos’ will still/be there.’ The thought that these lines she is so familiar with will last longer than she does in her lover’s life is an oddly surreal image to examine, ‘the dark’ familiarity Addonizio experiences both foreshadowing their breakup and representing their familiarity. The uncertainty of the future is strange to consider, the final image of the poem focusing on Addonizio ‘trying’ to maintain a connection with her lover’s body.