You grew up in Rhode Island
I grew up in Woonsocket, RI during the 60s and 70s. It was a dying mill town at that time. Very working class. There wasn’t a bookstore, but there was a library, which I really loved. I went there with my grandmother who was also a big reader of mysteries and I would take out as many books as possible. I first knew I wanted to be a writer when I was ten. I had extremely bad asthma and spent part of the 4th grade in a children’s hospital. I started writing stories and making “books” (on loose leaf paper with hand-drawn covers) and giving them to the other children in the hospital. I remember having a homework assignment to write about a pet—the irony was not lost on me. I was allergic to animals and everything else, which is why I was in the hospital. So I wrote a story about a bee (I was allergic to their stings) that lived in a woman’s beehive hairdo.
My father was a baker—he finished 8th grade, but then had to quit school to work to help support the family. My mother was a nurse—she was the Valedictorian of her high school class and got a scholarship to college. The guidance counselor told her she had two choices—nurse or schoolteacher. This was 1954. My parents weren’t exactly thrilled about me becoming a writer. They saw my chance to go to college as a chance to make more money than they did, not as a chance for artistic freedom. Still, they accepted my decision. I think my father was proud of me—he died in November of 2008. My mother is too. I think they both wished I’d written less about sex.
One thing I adore about your poetry is your voice. It's so natural, so conversational. Even in your formal poems. I feel as if I am sitting right next to you, leaning closer so I don't miss a word. Is that a conscious choice? I know David Kirby talks about something he calls "talk poetry" . . . ??
Thank you! David Kirby calls that style “ultra-talk,” like we would want to sound if we were smart and sassy during every conversation.
What was the first book of poems that you fell in love with? Who are your gods and goddesses of poetry now? What books do you always keep close at hand? How about novels?
Denise Duhamel: The first book of contemporary poetry I read was The Jane
Poems by Kathleen Spivack. It was a
series of vignettes about a woman named Jane.
It blew me away. I honestly had
no idea there were any contemporary poets at all when I stumbled upon that
book. I thought they’d gone the way of
the shoemaker or town crier—that poets just didn’t exist anymore. Soon after I
read Sweethearts (a book of prose poems/short shorts, I’m not sure which) by
Jayne Anne Phillips. Other books
important to me when I was just starting out were The Lost Pilot by James Tate
and The Naomi Poems: Corpse and Beans by Bill Knott. I wanted to be a fiction writer until I read
The Jane Poems, actually. My favorite
novels back then were Fear of Flying (go figure!) and The Catcher in the Rye.
Now my favorite poets include YOU! Well, you know this, but it must be stated for the record.
What is your favorite film? Movie star?
One of my favorite movies is Something Wild, which came out in 1986. I have the poster and the soundtrack. I’ve been thinking about it a lot—how it blended romantic comedy, road movie, and thriller all in one. It was, I think, Jonathan Demme’s best movie. But I haven’t seen it in a really long time—I hope it’s still as amazing as I remember it. Here’s the end credits.
My favorite movie star is Sean Penn. He is part bad boy, part political spokesman. I have seen every movie he’s ever made. Plus he used to write poetry—I kid you not. And he was on the Stephen Colbert show with Robert Pinsky. How cool is that?