Knowledge Analysis
by Kim Addonizio

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Historical Context

(Poetry for Students)

Addonizio's poem tells her readers about "some terrible act that sends you reeling off." Many such acts occurred during Addonizio's lifetime as well as in the years before her birth. As she observes in her poem, some events are so shocking that "even when you know" what people are capable of doing to one another, these appalling acts defy belief. In many ways, the twentieth century was defined by a succession of genocides, including that of the Armenians in Turkey (1915–1918), Stalin's crushing of the Ukrainian revolt (1932–1933), the Japanese murder of Chinese in Nanking (1937–1938), the Nazi Holocaust (1938–1945), the Khmer Rouge's slaughter of Cambodians (1975–1979), the Rwandan slaughter of Tutsis (1994), and the massacre of Muslims in Bosnia (1992–1995). Through these events, upward of seventeen million people were killed simply because they were of a particular race or ethnic group or because they practiced a particular religion. Many acts of individual terrorism also occurred. The Palestine Liberation Organization was responsible for the murder of eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, as well as many attacks in the Middle East. Also, the Irish Republican Army carried out various attacks in Great Britain. By 1995, terror was no longer limited to areas outside the United States. That year an American terrorist blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.

The first several years of the twenty-first century were also characterized by death and terrorism. On the morning of September 11, 2001, nearly three thousand people died in attacks on the World Trade Center, in New York City, and the Pentagon, in Washington, D.C., along with the crash of a hijacked plane in Pennsylvania. These incidents of terrorism seemed more shocking than those of previous centuries, and as Addonizio suggests in the final lines of her poem, such events leave people frightened that "there is more to know." The September 11 attacks led to the U.S. involvement in a war in Afghanistan against the Taliban, who were at the time that nation's ruling faction. The Taliban, a name derived from an Arabic word for "religious students," was originally composed of revolutionaries who fought the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1979–1989). Once they gained control of most of their nation, the Taliban instituted strict Islamic rule, even while a civil war continued against the Northern Alliance, who also controlled part of Afghanistan. The Taliban was closely aligned with the militant organization al Qaeda and allowed that group's religious fundamentalist leader, Osama bin Laden, to establish training camps for terrorists. Al Qaeda was responsible for the events of September 11, 2001.

Although the Taliban eventually was ousted from Afghanistan, many members remained in hiding and continued to plan terrorist activities. Indeed, attacks took place in Istanbul, Turkey, and Casablanca, Morocco, in 2003; in Madrid, Spain, in 2004; and in London, England, in 2005. Other attacks were executed throughout the world, and although no additional terrorist attacks were launched in the United States after 2001, warnings of possible attacks have sporadically arisen. These warnings have heightened public awareness, but they also have fostered feelings of vulnerability and fear. As Addonizio tells her readers, examples of human cruelty are "endlessly apparent" and serve to remind people that they have reason to be afraid. The final line of her poem leaves readers with what is almost a warning—that "one day" people will witness even worse examples of human cruelty.

Literary Style

(Poetry for Students)

Free Verse

Free verse is verse with no discernible structure, rhyme scheme, or meter. Free verse allows the poet to fit the poetic line to the content of the poem. Thus, the poet is not restricted by the need to shape the poem to a particular meter but can instead create complex rhythm and syntax. Free verse is not the same as blank verse , which also does...

(The entire section is 1,647 words.)