poem index

About this poet

In 1961, Denise Duhamel was born in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. She received a BFA degree from Emerson College and a MFA degree from Sarah Lawrence College.

She is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including: Blowout (University of Pittsburgh, 2013), Ka-Ching! (University of Pittsburgh, 2009), Two and Two (2005), and Mille et un sentiments (Firewheel Editions, 2005).

Her other books currently in print are Queen for a Day: Selected and New Poems (University of Pittsburgh, 2001), The Star-Spangled Banner, winner of the Crab Orchard Poetry Prize (1999); Kinky (1997); Girl Soldier (1996); and How the Sky Fell (1996). Duhamel has also collaborated with Maureen Seaton on three volumes: Little Novels (Pearl Editions, 2002), Oyl (2000), and Exquisite Politics (Tia Chucha Press, 1997).

In response to Duhamel's collection Smile!, Edward Field says, "More than any other poet I know, Denise Duhamel, for all the witty, polished surface of her poems, communicates the ache of human existence."

She has received grants and awards from numerous organizations, including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. She is also the guest editor of The Best American Poetry 2013.

Duhamel teaches creative writing and literature at Florida International University and lives in Hollywood, Florida.

Kinky

Denise Duhamel, 1961
They decide to exchange heads.
Barbie squeezes the small opening under her chin 
over Ken's bulging neck socket. His wide jaw line jostles
atop his girlfriend's body, loosely,
like one of those novelty dogs
destined to gaze from the back windows of cars.
The two dolls chase each other around the orange Country Camper 
unsure what they'll do when they're within touching distance. 
Ken wants to feel Barbie's toes between his lips, 
take off one of her legs and force his whole arm inside her.
With only the vaguest suggestion of genitals,
all the alluring qualities they possess as fashion dolls, 
up until now, have done neither of them much good. 
But suddenly Barbie is excited looking at her own body 
under the weight of Ken's face. He is part circus freak,
part thwarted hermaphrodite. And she is imagining 
she is somebody else—maybe somebody middle class and ordinary,
maybe another teenage model being caught in a scandal.

The night had begun with Barbie getting angry 
at finding Ken's blow up doll, folded and stuffed
under the couch. He was defensive and ashamed, especially about 
not having the breath to inflate her. But after a round
of pretend-tears, Barbie and Ken vowed to try
to make their relationship work. With their good memories 
as sustaining as good food, they listened to late-night radio 
talk shows, one featuring Doctor Ruth. When all else fails,
just hold each other, the small sex therapist crooned. 
Barbie and Ken, on cue, groped in the dark, 
their interchangeable skin glowing, the color of Band-Aids. 
Then, they let themselves go— Soon Barbie was begging Ken 
to try on her spandex miniskirt. She showed him how 
to pivot as though he was on a runway. Ken begged 
to tie Barbie onto his yellow surfboard and spin her 
on the kitchen table until she grew dizzy. Anything,
anything, they both said to the other's requests,
their mirrored desires bubbling from the most unlikely places.

From Kinky, Orchises Press, 1997. Reprinted with permission of Denise Duhamel.

Denise Duhamel

Denise Duhamel

Born in 1961, Denise Duhamel is the author of numerous books and chapbooks of poetry

by this poet

poem

"...The use of condoms offers substantial protection, but does not guarantee total protection and that while there is no evidence that deep kissing has resulted in transfer of the virus, no one can say that such transmission would be absolutely impossible." --The Surgeon General, 1987

poem
—to Sean Penn

I'm writing this on a plane, Sean Penn,
with my black Pilot Razor ballpoint pen.
Ever since 9/11, I'm a nervous flyer. I leave my Pentium
Processor in Florida so TSA can't x-ray my stanzas, penetrate
my persona. Maybe this should be in iambic pentameter,
rather than this mock sestina, each
poem
Yes
According to Culture Shock:
A Guide to Customs and Etiquette 
of Filipinos, when my husband says yes,
he could also mean one of the following:
a.) I don't know.
b.) If you say so.
c.) If it will please you.
d.) I hope I have said yes unenthusiastically enough
for you