O, Miami: Denise Duhamel talks fondue, figs and frosting

Arts / Article

Week three of the O, Miami Poetry Festival is fast-approaching, and there’s a torrent of poetry readings and related events that will inspire and illuminate your creative impulses. All you have to do is grab a friend, lover, family member or neighbor, select an event here and go. Last weekend I attended an O, Miami reading at Books & Books in Coral Gables, and I was so inspired that I had to interview all of the poets who read. Here’s the first interview from that reading with Denise Duhamel.

Artist Augustina Woodgate surreptitiously sews poetry tags into clothes at the Goodwill (2011).Photo courtesy of O, Miami Poetry Festival

Neil de la Flor: What was your process with Blowout? Was it a conscious collection or did it coalesce and congeal spontaneously? Denise Duhamel: I had been writing the poems for Blowout over the course of four years, but I wasn’t sure I had a book. My friend, the poet Stephanie Strickland, helped me with the arc, as well as revising some of the individual poems. I am pretty prolific, so when I try to put a book together, a lot of culling is involved. I hadn’t thought of this until now, but the title does suggest some crazy spontaneity. That, however, wasn’t the case.

ND: Many of the poems are extraordinarily personal, yet they also turn attention away from the narrator and outward, in order to reveal something more personal, especially the poems “How It Will End” and “If You Really Want To.” Is it a pre-determined or spontaneous process of excavating the personal through the universal? DD: So many of the poems in the book are about falling in or out of love—and that is such a universal experience that it seemed natural for the speaker in the poems to look to others for ways to navigate matters of the heart. I am drawn to the personal when it is also construed as societal or political. Pink and Beyonce (who have great break up songs) and several movies that use divorce as plot points—Heartburn, An Unmarried Woman and American Beauty—are also referenced in Blowout.

ND: I felt an emotional rawness, exposed nerve-endings, that I don’t think I’ve been as keenly aware of before when listening to you read. What takes you to this place and what keeps you from crossing that invisible line between art and confession for confession’s sake? Or is there a line? DD: That is a great question—and I am still figuring it out as I go. I am keenly aware that the poems in Blowout take on a confessional (or post-confessional) stance. I have written loosely about my life for so long that I just have kept going. I remember reading somewhere that Sharon Olds said that there is a certain strength a poem gains through vulnerability. I know that vulnerability can go very wrong if the poem’s music and form isn’t up to holding the “confession.” This was a risk I took, though not lightly.

ND: Favorite food/s? DD: Fondue, figs and frosting. (I wasn’t even going for alliteration, but there it is…)

ND: How do you envision your life as a poet 10 years from now? DD: Ten years from now I will be 61. I would very much like to be living as I do now. I am happy writing and teaching and giving readings. I hope to have a full head of gray hair by then and bring that wisdom to my poetry.

Upcoming O, Miami events: When: April 12th – 8 p.m. What: Poetry + Ballet Where: >>> The LAB Miami, 400 NW 26th St., Miami Who: Barbara Lisette Anderson, Sara Esty, Leigh-Ann Esty, Nicole Stalker and Adriana Pierce Poet Barbara Lisette and dancers/choreographers Sara Esty, Leigh-Ann Esty, Nicole Stalker and Adriana Pierce from the Miami City Ballet present “Poetic Fusion: Bridging the Lines of Art,” a brand new poetry and ballet commission for O, Miami.

When: April 13 – 9 p.m. What: [email protected] Presents: Vanessa Hidary Where: >>> [email protected], 137 NE 19th St., Miami Who: Vanessa Hidary Fill your brain with the linguistic stylings of spoken word diva Vanessa Hidary, a.k.a. The Hebrew Mamita, and her bold and frank reflections on intercultural Jewish identity, experience and community. Tickets are $25 ($20 for students, seniors and artists) and available by calling 800-838-3006. Parking is plentiful and free.

When: April 16th – 10 p.m. What: Stone Groove Where: >>> The Vagabond, 30 NE 14th St., Miami Who: Hosted By Rod Deal & Marcus Blake Every Tuesday, Stone Groove turns The Vagabond into an open mic that’s tailor-made for jazz enthusiasts and poetry aficionados. The event features The 3rd Party, a jazz-fused band that sets the tone for the night, and DJs Wasabi & Corey Chase spinning an eclectic blend of jazz, soul and funk between performances.

When: April 17 – 7 p.m. What: Weird Miami Bus Tour Where: >>> Bas Fisher Invitational, 100 NE 11th St., Miami Who: Tour led by writer Nathaniel Sandler A special O, Miami edition of BFI’s famous Weird Miami tours that explores the alleyways of South Beach: an exploration of neither glitz nor glamour, washed in garbage juice and occasional poetry readings. Tours are $15 per person.

O, Miami’s goal is bring poetry to every resident of Miami-Dade County with scheduled and impromptu events from South Beach to South Miami. For a full list of upcoming events near you, visit www.omiami.org.