How many poetry readings feature a strong, ebullient poet? Denise Duhamel entertained a larger than average crowd at SUNY Brockport’s Writers Forum. Duhamel was introduced by SUNY Brockport’s Steve Fellner. Fellner’s own book, Blind Date with Cavafy, was selected by Duhamel for the 2006 Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize. Having heard Fellner read just this past Tuesday evening at the Genesee Reading Series at Writers & Books, I can say it is easy to understand how Duhamel selected Fellner’s manuscript. Both poets have a penchant for viewing the familiar in unexpected ways.
Duhamel, whose work is not strictly written for academicians, stood at the podium with confidence and a youthfulness that belied her 47 years. She prefers to open her readings with the lighthearted and humorous to capture her audience and, having their attention, she then feels comfortable addressing more serious issues, like death and loss. Duhamel uses the Barbie doll as a character to ponder the possibility of joining the military, among other humorous explorations. Her work is accessible and employs various forms such as the abcedarian, where in “Our Americano” her use of long lines and slang terminology from the 1950s makes what is old new again to a generation oblivious to that era. She devised another form based on the Mobius strip, where her poem about the struggles of a friend suffering from Alzheimer’s may begin and end anywhere on the three dimensional page plainly conveys the how of the poem. One does wonder, though, how such poems incorporating lengthy lines and breathlessness read on the printed page to a voiceless reader.