Denise Duhamel is one of my favorite poets and one of the most captivating, comforting, challenging writers I have ever read. But because she is “established” in the genre and I am only “emerging,” I realized with some chagrin as I was reading Blowout, her newest and best poetry collection to date, that I will never have a chance to blurb one of Duhamel’s books. We are poets of two generations. I belong to the one that comes after—and am grateful.
Then, I thought, what would Denise Duhamel do if she wanted to write a blurb of a book but knew she was unlikely to be asked? I think the poet-problem-solver would find a way, and in that spirit of playful tenacity, I offer the blurbs below:
1. Blowout is as momentous, as staggering, as devastating and triumphant as the word implies. “Tell me about it,” a friend pressed, but the best word for the book was already taken. “It’s a blowout,” I said, by which I meant a festival of fine language, a sudden rupture of standard expectations, a huge, all-consuming, rapturous event that makes you wince (“His hug becomes a grope”), makes you weep (“suicides tend to take off / their glasses before they kill themselves”), makes you guffaw (“I know you like bubble wrap, which seems like / the most romantic thing anyone has ever said”). No room for small-scale reactions here. If the heart were a race car—and who says it’s not—this book would blow out the tires and still cross the finish line first.
2. One of my favorite poems from Blowout is the first one, “How It Will End,” in which the speaker and her husband watch a lifeguard and his girlfriend fighting. Together they create the narrative of what they believe they are seeing—“I say, / ‘Maybe he should help out more,’ and he says, / ‘Maybe she should be more supportive,’”—until the lifeguard and his girlfriend have made up, but the spouses are still standing on the beach, caught in their real-life squabbles. Another of my favorite poems is the last, “Ode to Your Eyebrows,” where the speaker praises her new lover’s “spiky cloud tufts / that lift up / when I show you / my slip / or my smarts.” Another favorite poem falls in the middle of the book. In “My Strip Club,” “the girls crawl on stage / wearing overalls / and turtlenecks / then slowly pull on / gloves […] A big spender / can take one of my girls /into a back room / where he can clamp / on her snowshoes.” I could go on like this, but you get the picture. There are forty poems in this book, and every one is my favorite. Blowout is a stunning, poetic buffet; no one could order off this menu à la carte.
3. I was reading Blowout the other day, and someone asked me, “Could you teach that book? What kind of class could you teach it in?” And I thought, well, of course you could teach it in Poetic Techniques. What poet couldn’t learn from the skillful enjambments, the clever word play, the insights that cut like a scythe: “And so it came to pass—finally, / that I didn’t want to know.” You could teach it in American Literature, too. The homage to Frank O’Hara alone (“Having a Diet Coke with You”) is enough to prove that Eliot was right about tradition and the individual talent. You could teach this book in a film class to gain a fresh perspective on Heartburn, An Unmarried Woman, and American Beauty, or in a history class, where everyone would be interested to know that “Cleopatra Invented the First Vibrator.” An economics class would surely benefit from an incisive, long poem like “Recession Commandments,” and a depth psychology class would be eager to explore the implications of “Ten Days Before We Meet, I Dream You.” Or don’t teach it at all. Just leave Blowout on a table in a waiting room, or on a bus, or in the back of a cab, and let these poems work their own, pervasive magic.
4. Denise Duhamel does the impossible in these poems: she makes saying the hardest, truest thing seem as easy as breathing, and as natural, like when she tells us “the way we used to kiss, the eager way all lovers kiss at first” and “Back then, before I met you, / I thought gross. Now I think love—our eyes forming crystals / and diamonds when we dream.” When I used to go to the movies more, I remember the 3-D glasses the ushers handed out: how the world of the screen suddenly shifted into something brighter, more colorful and terrifying and vividly hyper-real. That’s what happens when we see the world through Duhamel’s eyes: there are near misses with MACK trucks and “risky neon mists,” pampered hamsters and panties stolen from the clothesline, Alka-Seltzer packets fizzing with words, a wedding photo that refuses to burn, and this speaker we can't help but trust and admire, “bolt[ing] to the taxi stand like a late bride.” Wherever she’s going, we’re going there, too—no question. Duhamel writes, “I have to get it all down before someone else does,” and the reader laughs a little. No one in the world could scoop her on the dizzying, dazzling, diligently rendered “post-confessional transgressive poetry” of her incomparable life.
Julie Marie Wade is the author of two collections of prose, Wishbone: A Memoir in Fractures (Colagate University Press, 2010) and Small Fires (Sarabande Books, 2011) and two collections of poetry, Without (Finishing Line Press, 2010) and Postage Due (White Pine Press, 2013). She is the newest member of the graduate teaching faculty in creative writing at Florida International University in Miami.
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013
$15.95 paperback, ISBN: 978-0-8229-6236-6