Connecting with Kim Addonizio’s “Insomnia Song”

by Sophia Tone  ·  March 23, 2023
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Girlbosses will hate this poem. I am not a girlboss—in fact, I tend to the apathetic side of the spectrum. But I still feel the pressure, especially as a near-college-graduate, to charge forward, to do a happy dance and put on my biggest smile and make things work, though I’m not sure what I’m moving toward or whether I’ll like what I see when I get there. “Insomnia Song,” published in Five Points Vol. 21, No. 3., feels like a deep breath, to me. It feels like meditating, like feeling each piece of clothing while you’re folding the laundry or like thinking about each tooth while you’re brushing them. “Insomnia Song” is a love poem to real, terrifying life, which Addonizio suggests is found in the gap between effort and death. 

The speaker in this poem is obviously down—our hearts, they say, “are decelerating… to a dirge,” and their people “are a drag.” But this poem is not about trying to move past that. It is not the typical journey from sadness to hope. It is about the pleasures of wallowing in one’s fear and in one’s apathy. The speaker is melodramatic but always reasonable: “I prefer to stay here… saying many pointless things… to no one / & in that way go on… not killing myself… or anyone else / like an ugly flower.” They are not going to die—to do so would be to give in to the very spectacle they avoid. 

I just love that this poem is not just about how sad someone is but about how to sit in that sadness, how to justify that decision, and how to exist as a perpetually exhausted person in a world obsessed with movement. Addonizio is writing against motivation, which is kind of taboo, and absolutely refreshing. Why try so hard to move past reality? It is reality. 

Some lines in this are almost Beat-esque: early on in the poem, she writes “I like to see a woman lurching down a trash-filled sidewalk, chugging an airline bottle of vodka / & tossing it at my feet…” As in Ginsburg’s “Howl,” the downtrodden are romantic figures, or are at least given the attention we normally give to more subtle, more successful people. I love the nonchalance of it all—the characters are utterly beat, and so is the structure of the poem itself, which is full of long, sighing lines and tired ampersands. 

The tiredness of the poem is what is refreshing about it, for me. Addonizio gives me permission to quit labeling my life and just feel it. As an aspiring poet myself, I’ve been trying to write about the hardest things, a hard task in itself. It’s even more challenging to write about hard things in new ways, without using the language of happiness or sadness. I so admire Addonizio for exploring a new state of feeling, somewhere in the middle of those two timeworn emotions.

Sophia Tone is a senior at Georgia State University working toward a Bachelor’s in English with a concentration in creative writing. She hopes to balance her time after graduation between poetry, fiction-writing, and a career in publishing.