Kim Addonizio's poem "Knowledge" is a twenty-line free-form poem, with no rhyme scheme. Indeed, free verse has no distinct limits or rules and so does not restrict the poet to a particular format. In "Knowledge," Addonizio's narrator asks the reader to consider whether the horrors of modern life are limited in some way to the tragedies to which one has already been exposed. "Knowledge" appears in Addonizio's fourth book of poetry, What Is This Thing Called Love, published in 2004. The collection is divided into five sections, with the first devoted to love, the second to death, the third to the world, the fourth to drinking, and the fifth to no topic in particular. "Knowledge" is found in the third section.
The poem focuses on the most horrific things that take place in the world, although it does not mention any horrors in particular. Addonizio begins the poem with a lengthy dependent clause that allows the reader to slowly come to an understanding of the assertion that even though one might think one knows the depth of human cruelty and the extremes of barbarity, some events can still prove utterly appalling. As she suggests in the last line, one might remain frightened that even worse acts are yet to come. Addonizio uses the second-person "you" throughout the poem, inviting the reader in as a participant in her very personal exploration of the horrors that continue to shock the world.
The first several lines of "Knowledge" contain a dependent clause that forces the reader to continue reading without understanding the intent of the rumination until the middle of line 6. The first line suggests that the poem will explore events or behaviors that are outside the ordinary events of daily life. The words "Even when you know" imply that one can still be surprised, that not everything can be understood or anticipated. The second line continues in this mode, with the addition of "even when you pride yourself." The inclusion of the word "pride" clarifies how fully the poem's addressee, "you," claims to understand the world, in that this person is proud of this knowledge. Thus, the reader may anticipate that the narrator is asserting that even those who understand the cruelty and arbitrariness of the world can still be surprised by the level of cruelty that is inflicted on innocent people. She expands on this point in line 3 when she points out that unflinchingly studying history or watching the news still may not prepare one for the barbarities to which some people can subject others. That is, no history book, newspaper, or newscast can prepare a reader or viewer for the horrors that will be committed. This line makes clear that, for example, forcing people to study the Nazi Holocaust does not mean that they can be ready to objectively understand the situation when such an event occurs again.
In line 4, Addonizio continues the topic of line 3, explaining that even when one is aware of the "quotidian," or everyday, examples of human cruelty, this awareness provides no immunity. The poet uses the word "minor" in this line to reinforce how ordinary these events have become, how unimportant they seem; that is, she stresses the theme of how accustomed people can become to other people's meanness. She labels these incidents "endless" and in the first part of line 5 refers to them as "relevant examples" of how cruel human beings can be to one another. The ideas of the first five lines culminate in line 6, where the narrator provides an independent clause to which the preceding dependent clause can be linked. (The end of line 5, "even now," is in essence an abbreviated restatement of all that appears in lines 1-5.) She proposes that no amount of study or awareness of cruelty can fully prepare one for the reality of what some human beings will do to others. This cruelty still occasionally "strikes you anew."
Once the independent clause has been provided, the thought continues at the end of line 6 and the beginning of line 7. The narrator suggests that this renewed shock might lead those who feel that shock to think that they must have previously believed "that humanity / was fundamentally...
(The entire section is 1133 words.)