Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tuesday Evening in Chelsea: Denise Duhamel and Amy Lemmon reading at Barnes and Noble at Fashion Institute of Technology

Early this evening we went over to the fabulous Fashion Institute of Technology's Barnes and Noble college bookstore to see two of our favorite poets, Denise Duhamel and Amy Lemmon, read from their collaborative books, ABBA: The Poems and the just-published Enjoy Hot or Iced: Poems in Conversation and a Conversation.

Denise Duhamel is an old friend, and we were glad to see her photo in the New York Times on Saturday although the story of her reading at Horace Mann with another old friend from Miami, Maureen Seaton, was a little discomfiting. It was great to see her in person again as well as hear her read. We've enjoyed Denise's poetry since the 1980s although we didn't meet her until November 1993, when we did a reading together, along with others, for the anthology Mondo Barbie (coincidentally, it got a nice writeup by Dave Housley at The Lit Pub just this past weekend) at the Miami Book Fair International. And it was great to see her with Amy Lemmon, whom we've had the pleasure of knowing since she hired us to teach business writing at FIT in the fall of 2006.

Their joint reading from their collaborative books was a terrific hour of poetry, probably the best reading we've gone to this year. It had an intimate feel, and the poets -- as they do in their texts -- play off one another expertly. Denise has done a great deal of collaborative work, and both the playful ABBA poems and the somewhat more elegant Enjoy Hot or Iced (beautifully designed by the publisher) gave us, and the others in the audience, a great deal of excitement and fun.

Take this collaboration, "Ex Post Facto":

"Remember me?" the subject line. My college beau
was now and a VIP at Sysco.
He'd worn tie-dye and Birks on our first tryst. "Oh
you're in a sorority?" he'd said. I'd just made a pledge, though

I couldn't afford the dues. "Um, I joined Chi-O,"
I lied. "It's not Greek at all. We sit around and discuss Tao
and the benefits of soy." "Cool," he said. "Let's go
figure out our charts." I was a Gemini. He was a Leo.

Back at his place, he put on Elvis Costello,
lit vanilla candles, and unwrapped his Tarot
deck and ceramic bong. "In a past life, I was a Pharoah,"
I said, showing him my spread: a sword, a wand, and a fellow

with cups, dead ringer for Benny from ABBA. "Bingo!"
he teased until I became defensive. "Hey, I belong to the AFL-CIO
and NOW." "Not bad for a girl from Ohio,"
he whispered. He was from Miami, land of flamingo-

colored hotels and retirees in low-slung Speedos.
His kisses were sweet, a mixture of grass and Gallo.
In the mornings, we would eat marshmallow
clovers and hearts, Lucky Charms inciting our libidos

and sending us back to the lumpy futon. "Presto!"
I'd say, waving the sheets, beginning my strip show
to Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon." Crypto-
karaoke was at the core of our love-manifesto,

"You Spin Me Round" by Dead or Alive. Ergo,
I traded in my shit-kickers for lime green stilettos
and my Tom Robbins novels for Brecht librettos.
Would he recognize me now? My clothes hamper so

clogged with black, my closet full of faux
Fendi and knock-off Manolo Blahniks? Apropos
or no, humming Schubert's allegro ma non troppo,
I typed "Refresh my memory!" and sipped Bordeaux.

Here's Amy's title poem from Enjoy Hot or Iced:
You’ve brewed this stuff, now drink it—
these dreggy-dregs, this filter-silt,
the tiny bits that cling to tongue.
You always liked it strong and now
you’ve got it at its darkest, split
us at the core to brew a full bold flavor,
so each must shoulder/bear the double-weight
of everything except the other’s body.
I hope you have your fun and drink it, too,
iced now as much as it was hot. I don’t. I didn’t
order it this way. I wanted café au lait,
and when the waiter brought it and I asked for water,
he said flat “No” and mugged—a joke, I thought,
but sure enough, he never brought a glass, left me
to fend with froth and squeeze a dollar tip. He thought
he was funny. You think you’re kind, you think
you’re sensible, you think you’re something
I can’t quite imagine. What of the Monet’s
lily-pads of mold on Earl Grey cooling in the jar?
The brown scrub-nulling scum that clings
to the worn Picasso mug? The ghosts of shattered crockery,
the cartoon souls of slain French press carafes?
Yours, yours, mine, ours. It’s a tossup,
so you clay-pigeon it again and pull! Shoot! A hit!
My heart, I mean, that flat and battered thing
you had and lately thought so little of.

And Denise's "Boxed Set Sestina":
I hid my hopes in a cigar box on Christmas, but you gave them away on Boxing Day (in Canada). I clipped box tops for coupons while you gobbled an expensive Bento box lunch. You were a noshow as I waited in line at the box office in the satin pillbox hat I bought at the thrift shop. I collected hatboxes while you flew your box kite wearing only your boxers. Our lovemaking once wore out the box springs, but now you said you felt boxed in. I slumped in the last row while you glowed with someone else in our box seats. You slept in first class while I shivered in the boxcar. I never got your love letter because you forgot to put it in the mailbox. I felt so neglected I ate fistfuls of croutons right from the box in my boxy, unflattering housedress. My shadow box was filled with ceramic figurines of you. Your toolbox was as empty as our icebox. I stayed home, blaring my boom box, while you drank at the bar, wasting quarters on a dusty jukebox. You told me to get off my soapbox. Were our problems bigger than a breadbox? Yes! Especially when I caught you peeing in the sandbox or dipping into the cashbox while you thought I wasn’t looking. It’s true I was a chatterbox, but you can’t deny you put your affection in a lockbox while you played with your vintage Matchbox cars. It was up to me to open the fuse box and fix the problem—up to me to take kickboxing to defend myself. I thought outside the box when I played your favorite song, Daddy Cool’s “Baby, Let Me Bang Your Box,” on my squeezebox. I was hoping to win you back after our most vicious boxing match—thirtynine rounds of screaming that made the German boxer nextdoor growl. It had all started when your word “boxwallah” wasn’t in the Scrabble dictionary; then I won with “carboxyl.” You snatched up your ebony snuffbox while I tore the boxberries from our flowerbox. I stuffed a shoebox with regret. You packed up your Hot Wheels lunchbox and left.

After the reading, the poets signed our books. We're really grateful for the work of Amy Lemmon and Denise Duhamel, and even more grateful to have them as friends.

No comments: