Reading The Existentialist Cookbook is like attending a raucous dinner party of the imagination. Host Shawnte Orion lets you know right away that the usual two off-limit topics—politics and religion—don't apply at this gathering. The Existentialist Cookbook is smart, pun-filled; it's full of serious wordplay, pop culture, and inventive persona. This fusion poetry cuisine takes on haiku, haibun, and KFC. The Existentialist Cookbook is a delightful concoction. Bon appetit!
—Denise Duhamel, National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist for Blowout
I don't even remember how I first discovered Denise Duhamel's book Kinky, which was an entire collection of her Barbie poems. But I immediately fell in love with it. I was captivated by how the poems were able to explore complex grown-up issues, through the simplicity of common childhood toys. One of those books that always makes a great gift.
Buddhist BarbieIn the 5th century B.C. an Indian philosopher Gautama teaches “All is emptiness” and “There is no self.” In the 20th century A.D. Barbie agrees, but wonders how a man with such a belly could pose, smiling, and without a shirt.
From Kinky, Orchises Press, 1997
That book is also a great source of inspiration for the way it came about.
Check this interview excerpt from an issue #24 of Rattle:
Alan Fox: Your book, Kinky, was rejected, what was it, fifty-three times?
Duhamel: It sure was, yes.
...And now it's my best-selling book. So it's one of those lessons to writers... Keep knocking on doors.
I think the book was probably done in '92, maybe '91. And it came out in '97.
Fox: Did that bother you, to get it back time after time after time?
Duhamel: Yes (laughs). Yes, I have to say it did. It was horrible. It was awful.
Fox: What gave you continued confidence in it?
Duhamel: I think at some point it just turned into stubborn maniacal behavior (laughs), more than confidence.
One time at a local writing conference, I was able to take a workshop from her and she is even better in person. She told us how much of her comedic sensibilities came from a terrible Communications Professor that she once had, named Denis Leary who made the class focus on helping his fledgling stand-up career. I grew up watching all of those "Live from The Improv" type of shows and followed the careers of certain stand-up comedians like baseball all-stars. So we had some common background and I felt like I understood where she was coming from a little bit.
I thought her most recent book Blowout was her best yet. Click here for the excellent beginning poem from that collection. Her craft and her popularity seem to be at all-time highs (one of her poems was even quoted in the television series Breaking Bad). I believe she's had work included in about 9 volumes of the annual Best American Poetry anthologies and she was even chosen as the Guest Editor for the 2013 edition.