Nearly three years ago, Denise Duhamel packed the Bayley Room in Beeghly Library for a reading and discussion of her poetry. On Tuesday, September 10, she returned, once again greeted by an SRO crowd, to share the poetry she selected for inclusion in The Best American Poetry 2013, for which she served as guest editor. The book’s publication date coincided with her OWU visit.
Duhamel is professor of English at Florida International University and author of many poetry collections, including Two and Two and Queen for a Day: Selected and New Poems. She also has coedited, with Maureen Seaton and David Trinidad, Saints of Hysteria: A Half-Century of Collaborative American Poetry.
The recipient of numerous awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, she has been anthologized widely, including eight times in the Best American Poetry anthology series.
Reading from the foreword of the book, Duhamel reflected that some previous guest editors “…found the word ‘best’ problematic, and other wrestled with the slippery definitions of ‘poetry.’ I found I struggled most with the word ‘American.’ … I was to choose work written by poets living in or from America most likely from magazines published in the United States. … How was I able to get in as much of America as possible? How was I to make America relevant to the rest of the world should anyone beyond these borders show interest in these poems?”
In the end, Duhamal chose 75 poems (the limit permitted) from an array of poets throughout the country. She chose to read “Divine,” by Kim Addonizio, “All-American,” by David Hernandez, “When Men Go off to War,” by Victoria Kelly, and “The Kind of Man I Am at the DVM” by Stacy Waite. Like the anthology itself, her selections represented a cross section of both men and women of varying ages, ethnicities, themes, and styles.
Duhamel then read from her latest book, Blowout, which deals with the delight of love gained and the despair of love lost—and back again—and is part of the Pitt Poetry Series. She read “The Recession Commandments,” “How It Will End,” and “My Strip Club,” a poem she wrote in response to discovering a pole dancer doll that was being marketed to children.
Duhamel says she has been writing poem since the age of 10. “I didn’t know they were poems, actually. I remember attempting a list poem in which I tried to count all the people in the world.”
Later, because she suffered from severe asthma, Duhamel spent almost the entire fourth grade in a children’s hospital. “There I wrote novels,” she says. “They were all about the kids at the hospital. I did the cover art, too, and blurbs for the back. They probably were about four pages long, but I thought they were novels.”
Her advice for young writers was simple. “Read everything, even if you don’t get it or like it. Just read. Write every day for at least 10 minutes. Like yoga or running, you progress slowly. You can’t get worse from where you begin, so just keep going.”