Denise Duhamel

Kinky by Denise Duhamel

I met a really good poet tonight.

Denise Duhamel is a passionately nice person. Her sense of humor is really what I needed right about now. I went to a reading, seduced at first by Leslie’s raving about her, and later by what I found of hers on the web. There’s a lot out there.

But I bought a couple of books anyway. Kinky is a book of poems about Barbie. How can you resist poems with such titles as “Barbie, Her Identity as an Extraterrestrial Finally Suspected, Bravely Battles the Interogation of the Pentagon Task Force Who’s Captured Her”?

Duhamel read the most appropriate one for the times tonight, “One Afternoon when Barbie Wanted to Join the Military,” whose concluding lines are something worth thinking about:

As GI Joe bullied Ken into a headlock,
Barbie told the boys to cut it out. She threatened
that if he kept it up, GI Joe would
never get that honorable discharge.

Even when it’s cracking a joke, poetry is language working as hard as it can.

Queen for a Day by Denise Duhamel

Queen for a Day is a sort of greatest hits package, with some new tunes bundled in. Searching around the web, I found that her one banned book, The Woman With Two Vaginas, is available in its entirety online. I read some of them before I went to the reading, and was just rolling on the floor. The poems are adaptations of Eskimo folktales.

I also listened to a recent poem which is available as a real audio file, Ego. Two poems that aren’t in Queen for a Day are worth checking out at the Cortland Review. She really reads well, I’d highly recommend the audio files. “Crater Face” and “Snow White’s Acne”? Clearly, the subject matter is a little out of the ordinary for what most people think about when they think of poetry. Duhamel read poems about visiting nude beaches, dreaming of having sex with people, etc. There wasn’t a daisy or a moonbeam in sight.

That’s what really attracted me to her. One of the most interesting pieces she did tonight could have come from the mind of Yoko Ono. It was a “Moebius Strip Poem.” It was about a woman with Alzheimer’s, and was written on a piece of paper folded over and taped into a strip; the idea of course was that you could start or finish the poem anywhere, or just read it into infinity. It was disconnected, humorous observations that were not monotonous in the slightest. What a concept. A poem that never ends. Can you tell that I got really excited tonight?

Need an inducement to visit the links? Try this one from The Woman with Two Vaginas


There was a husband who married a wife he found so beautiful
that his penis was in a state of constant arousal.
His wife was delicate and needed her sleep, but the needy penis
kept after her night and day. She served her husband dinner
and he wanted to have sex. Her shoulder brushed his as she passed
in the igloo’s passage way and he wanted to have sex again.
He often woke her up in the middle of the night, his hard penis
nudging against her soft thigh.
Soon he’d rubbed inside her so many times, that her vagina
wore away. The husband didn’t see his mistake
and stroked his penis between her knees until his wife had no more legs.
He used up her belly and her arms. Her breasts were next
to disappear. When nothing was left that he could touch,
Him-Whose-Penis-Never-Slept ejaculated into his wife’s shadow.
It vanished, his semen a liquid ghost dripping down a lonely snow wall.

This poem, and a few others from that book are in Queen for a Day, but it’s a retrospective that I’m really looking forward to digging into. The sales of her books were brisk, the bookstore attendant remarked when it was all over that there was only one copy left. Sex sells, ay? But the attraction for me was more than that. No firey feminist polemics here, just the ordinary comedy of common life. Another poem I found online Mille et un Sentiments (701-800) is an alliterative laundry list of sorts, with some rather unique combinations. Iggy Pop in a poem? Who’d’ve thought. I just had to ask her about it. I could tell by the glint in her eye. Iggy Pop wasn’t her idol. It was just an alliterative choice, and a fun one at that. It’s the documentarian in me. I can’t help but wonder if what I read is true, and I just have to ask. We laughed about it, and I got out of the way as everyone lined up to get their books signed. I went out into the lobby, and I found myself wishing that when I was younger I would have attended more poetry readings. There are often a lot of incredible women there; tonight was no exception. Conversation is a good thing, and there was more to be had outside over cigarettes and laughter.

just call me a groupie.

I went back inside and decided when everyone had left to talk to Denise some more, and get my books signed. I always feel so weird about this sort of thing; I don’t want to faun, but she was just really, really fun to be around. I may go in for a Q&A session she’s giving tomorrow, but I don’t really have any questions. It’s just nice to be around people who can find so much joy in life.

I carp about modern poetry all the time, but I’m starting to warm to it a little. William Carlos Williams Paterson was a real revelation. Tonight was another. To see the fabric of life teased out so finely, with such a wonderful sense of humor, makes me want to read much more. I really love the list poems I’ve found online. The more I search, the more I find. Mille et un Sentiments (900-1001) is pretty damn fun too. List poems: what a concept. If she comes to your town, don’t hesitate to go. Denise Duhamel is full of a trickster spirit that really made me laugh when I needed it the most.

Leslie said she’d call me in the morning, if I wanted to go to the session. Maybe I should try to sleep tonight?