Friday, June 7, 2013

Denise Duhamel's new book Blowout as viewed from the corner chair in my local coffeehouse

Due to my hectic schedule or my attention span, I confess that I rarely sit down and read a full-length poetry collection straight through. I normally sneak in groups of poems here and there, as time allows. I even have a tendency to read them in random order determined by fate, according to what page happens to flutter open.  
But the other day, I took Denise Duhamel's new collection Blowout in my car's glovebox, just in case I wanted to read it during break or lunchtime (which didn't happen).

However, I got out of work early for some reason and stopped by a coffeehouse on my way home. One passionfruit iced tea and non-fat mocha later and I was at the end of her book. I will be sure to carve out the time for this kind of non-stop read-through, more often. Especially for the new books from my favorite poets. 

I always intend to post more reviews on Goodreads, but for once I will follow through:

Denise Duhamel's Blowout opens with her poem "How It Will End" where a husband and wife witness another couple's fight ("We can't hear what they're saying, / but it is as good as a movie") and begin projecting their own issues and grievances in a brilliant mixture of craft and confession. Her conversational style is the deceptive kind that requires much work and skill to end up sounding so casual (" `She has to just get it out of her system,' / my husband laughs, but I'm not laughing."). This poem was deservedly included in the 2009 Best American Poetry anthology and perfectly sets the tone for the rest of this intimate collection that chronicles the dissolution of her marriage.

The book is a "Self-Portrait in Hydrogen Peroxide" divided into three sections, with Duhamel finding therapeutic solace in the films of her "postdivorce Netflix recovery" and the parallels with Madonna's public split from Guy Ritchie (who walked away "saying he didn't want her money / because he was a macho British dude / unlike my husband / who was neither macho nor British") in part one, before ultimately finding new love in part three ("Having a Diet Coke with You").

But as with any good trilogy, it's the middle section that dazzles most, so part two becomes her Empire Strikes Back, as she revisits her earliest notions of couplehood (in poems from "Kindergarten Boyfriend" to "Fourth Grade Boyfriend" and "Lower East Side Boyfriend") and detours through history ("Cleopatra Invented The First Vibrator") and language (with the English-for-Americans poem "My New Chum") until her worst-case-scenario year concludes with the death of her Father.

All the while, Duhamel's sense of humor is the buoy that keeps her work from ever sinking into self-pity, which only evokes a deeper sense of empathy.

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