CONVERSATION WITH DENISE DUHAMEL
Small Orange (ORANGE): Can you tell us a little bit about the poetry community in Florida? How has the community in Florida helped to sustain your writing?
Denise Duhamel (DD): I sure can! I was nervous about moving to the Miami area having had such an amazing poetry-life in New York City. But I have found so many good poetry friends here—not only through my job at Florida International University, but also through community efforts like O, Miami, The Miami Book Fair, and the Palm Beach Poetry Festival. Many great poets come through Miami to read in these venues as well as Coral Gable’s Books and Books—possibly the most awesome, beautiful bookstore in the world.
ORANGE: Your most recent book, Scald, came out in 2017. What was your revision process like for this book? Has your revision process changed with each book?
DD: Scald came on the heels of Blowout, my most personal book to date. Or maybe it just felt the most personal and vulnerable. I made a conscious decision to put together a book that was about big ideas rather than personal testimony and the result was Scald. My friend Stephanie Strickland helped me choose and order the poems—it was her idea to separate the poems into three sections and dedicate each to second-wave feminist heroes of mine.
ORANGE: Your poems tend towards the autobiographical. How much time do you allow or need to pass in order to write about significant events in your life? How does that distance affect the work?
DD: William Wordsworth thought that “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” I used to believe that to be true, but when I wrote the poems in Blowout (about my divorce) I wrote many of the poems almost immediately afterwards and several as I was going through the process. This happened to me one other time—I have a series of poems about my parents’ accident in KaChing! I wrote while I was taking care of them. There was a lot of revision needed, to be sure, but I was able to write through the experience in many ways.
ORANGE: Who are some of your favorite poets? What are some of your favorite essays/stories/poems/books you’ve read recently?
DD: I always feel like I am leaving people out but here goes: Dorianne Laux, Sharon Olds, Jan Beatty, Nin Andrews, Allison Joseph, Kim Addonizio, Harryette Mullen, Molly Peacock, Ada Limón, Beth Ann Fennelly, Maureen Seaton, Julie Wade, Stacey Waite….I’m going to stop because the longer I keep going the more people I’ll leave out, but you get the idea. One of the most exciting books read this summer is Erica Dawson’s epic When Rap Spoke to God.
ORANGE: Can you describe your typical day-to-day and how writing fits into it?
DD: Though I am not a morning person where people are concerned, I am a morning writer. I love writing before the tasks of the day invade my brain and many times I try to write for twenty minutes before I open my email or check my phone. Because I am a professor, I have many summer days free for writing. Those days I can sometimes go for eight or nine hours straight.
ORANGE: What would be your one piece of advice for young women/women identified poets writing poems today?
DD: Don’t be afraid to write what you are thinking and feeling! Even if a certain thought you have seems taboo, I can pretty much guarantee that other women will say, “Exactly!” and/or “I feel the same way but never thought to articulate it as such.” The testimony of a woman is so often dismissed in our culture, but the testimony of women poets finds an audience. We have a great community.
ORANGE: What’s the best advice about craft and writing that you’ve received?
DD: The late Colette Inez (who should have been on my list in question #4) once told me, “Pay yourself first.” When I didn’t understand what she meant, she said that the most important work for writers is writing. It’s easy to make excuses—the floor is dirty, my roots are a mess, I owe my mom a call. All those things may be true, but you will get to them. If you clean, primp, and nurture others first, your whole day could be gone doing such things. But if you give yourself even ten minutes or twenty minutes each day, you are feeding your writing and your mood as well.
Denise Duhamel’s most recent book of poetry is Scald (Pittsburgh, 2017). Blowout (Pittsburgh, 2013) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her other titles include Ka-Ching! (Pittsburgh, 2009);Two and Two (Pittsburgh, 2005); Queen for a Day: Selected and New Poems (Pittsburgh, 2001); The Star-Spangled Banner (Southern Illinois University Press, 1999); and Kinky (Orhisis, 1997). She is a Distinguished University Professor in the MFA program at Florida International University in Miami.