On Denise Duhamel

First, Denise is a personal friend, someone I have unqualified affection for. But the truth is that a gazillion other people feel exactly the same way I do.

But since she came to FGCU to do a reading (for free) because of her friendship with me and Jesse Millner, I thought I would offer a few additional observations.

Before the reading we had a fun dinner at an Italian place near the university, as we had a good number of friends and students there--I forgot my digital camera, or I would be posting a ton of pictures right now. The group included student poets Rachel Kazor, Gary Levenson, Karen Everham, and Fran Marinaro and her wonderdog Night, colleagues Karen Tolchin, Win Everham, and Jesse Millner, and special guest Lyn Millner. I was really lucky in sitting between Denise and Rachel; I could feel all the envy directed at me from Jesse.

Unfortunately, our waitress was pokey in getting our orders, etc., and we were about 15 minutes late for the Sammie Pepys open-mic at the university bookstore. These readings, under Jesse's guidance, are the literary center of the university; he brings in a featured reader, and it is followed up by an open-mic event. The design of the program truly fosters both appreciation for the authors and an opportunity for young or novice writers to share a little stage time with some well known writers.

Denise, in short, was terrific. Because we were late, she read for only about 15 minutes (at most), just so that she wouldn't intrude on the open-mic time. What was touching, and a student commented on this as well, was just how thankfully Denise received her applause, genuinely expressing how touched she was. The student then noted how that was different from Billy Collins, who seemed to expect the applause after each poem he read. Precisely.

Anyway, Denise read from Kinky and Two and Two, ending with a breathy and breathless spin through her poem, "Egg Roll." In short, she left the crowd wanting more.

As the mostly students read for the open-mic section, Denise also showed her enthusiasm, applauding and yayying the young poets. She clearly remembers where she came from, and her humility, kindness, and joy just can't help but surface. Yes, we had a case of a wannabe beat, bad-ass poet, who screamed into the mic, doing a number on our ear drums, indulging . . . . it was bad enough that it dominated conversation after the reading, but I was also horribly bored with it, too.

After the reading, Lyn just had to have some pie, and so we (Lyn, Karen, Jesse, Denise, and I) went for a bite and coffee. Denise went out of her way to compliment Rachel's poem, and rightly so, marvelling at her control of line and phrasing, and reminding me that Rachel really could get into any M.F.A. program. Again, another sign of Denise's selflessness and generosity. Of course, I flirt with her a little, telling her how I'm plotting to get rid of her Nick, somehow, someway, but then I also tell her how he's one of the best guys I know around, and then I begin to feel my own Nick-love, and it's over.

So . . . well, the above just sounds like a regular diary entry, and I really didn't mean for that to occur. Denise's work, for the record, is nervy, bold, playful; she hasn't forgotten that poetry is both about survival and play. Anyway, she told me about a new project she's working on, and it's typically crazy, new, and experimental, and it sounds like fun, fun, fun to do. Any better reason to create an artwork?

No, Denise is no Billy Collins, and I thank all the poetry gods for that fact.