Denise Duhamel gets things all wrong brilliantly. In her prosey poems, a Barbie doll winds up at a twelve-step meeting -- and ends up enjoying it. ("She wished she could clap like the others/when there was a good story about recovery.") In another the poet mistakenly reads the word Pope instead of Coke in a title, opening new doors of perception ("Pepsi is bubbly and brown while the Pope is flat and white.") And in "Superego," she is "embarrassed that three of my favorite moon references/are by male poets." Not only does Duhamel admit folly, she revels in it, creating a singular hybrid of right and wrong, an absurd beauty in itself. As she writes in "Ego": "I wouldn't mind being god, the force/who spins the planets the way I spin a globe, a basketball, a yo-yo."
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Although not God or royalty, the 39-year-old assistant professor of English at Florida International University has a modicum of control over her universe. She has just released Queen for a Day: Selected and New Poems, which along with new work showcases poems from six of her previous collections (Kinky, The Woman with Two Vaginas, Girl Soldier, How the Sky Fell, Star Spangled Banner, and Smile!). The tome has been called "a Frank O'Hara meets Lucille Ball meets Sandra Bernhard of a book...." In it she swings with stunning aplomb from Nintendo to Noriega, Pepsi to the Pope, Spain to Nicole Simpson.
Explaining her writing influences, such as John Ashbery and the aforementioned O'Hara, Duhamel, who herself has had four works included in the prestigious Best American Poetry series, says: "I am interested in the New York School poets. I'm drawn to their openness to language play and their daring to expand the boundaries of what a poem is. For many years I was interested in the confessional' or personal or anecdotal poem. I still enjoy reading those kinds of poems, but now I feel, in my own work, that sort of poem has run its course. I really like the third generation of the New York School poets (I think we're up to the third generation by now!) -- Nin Andrews and David Trinidad, in particular."
Duhamel took the full-time FIU gig this past August following a stint as a visiting writer. After thirteen moves around the nation during the previous eight years, she and her husband, Nick Carbo (author of Secret Asian Man and other poetry collections), have settled in Hollywood Beach. About their newly stable lifestyle, she adds: "I have to say it's been pure joy to have my books all together under one roof. For so long they were in storage." Fitting at last for a queen.
And what would Duhamel do if she were really accorded royal status? "As your queen, I decree that all writers must have fun writing or stop immediately, punishable by low-level tickling."