Sunday, April 17, 2016

Welcome Wonder Words: Poetry at the Dali

Peter Meinke and Denise Duhamel answering questions
after their poetry reading at the Dali Museum
Helen Pruitt Wallace (Poet Laureate of St. Petersburg) hosted a poetry reading of Denise Duhamel and Peter Meinke (Poet Laureate of Florida) at the Dali last Thursday.  I'm happy to report wonderful moments of remembering for me such as: Oh yeah! Feminism isn't dead! And poets are often really freaking funny! And words can be hysterical or heartbreaking or both.  In short, although I didn't know it, I needed a poetry infusion.

Denise Duhamel started out reading some collaborative pieces she wrote with Maureen Seaton. Since Maureen was one of my favorite professors in graduate school - not only a phenomenal poet, but also a unbelievably kind, supportive and insightful teacher - it felt like a literary reunion for a minute there.  Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton have been writing collaborative pieces for decades.  As Denise noted, they started out in a time before texting, cell phones, before email really; they would call each other and leave lines on each other's answering machines. This is what I'd loved about the poets I knew in graduate school - the playfulness, the humor, the just-messing-around that can sometimes end up being gorgeous (and sometimes not - I'm not any of our exquisite corpse poetry exercises featuring chicken testicles ever evolved into high art, although they did inspire some snorting laughter and a running joke).  One poem of Duhamel and Seaton's poems took on gender by adding it into pop culture references, e.g., "The hills are alive with the sound of gender," which ended up creating one of the funniest list poems I've heard in a while. You can find gender in the darnedest places.

Denise moved on to reading some poems from Blowout, her latest collection.  Many of them centered around life post divorce, and the awkwardness of reentering the dating world after a long absence.  As someone long single, the piece about the guy who worked on her kitchen asking her out hit some familiar mental acrobatics.  You know it's a totally bad idea - and yet, hey, he would be handy around the house, at least during those moments when he was sober.  Many of her poems had a funny-but-ill-fated theme running underneath -- for instance, the poem that featured the narrator and her (at the time) husband watching a young couple at the beach argue.  The older couple add in lines for the young couple, circling around their own marital discord, only to become disconcerted in the end as the distant young lovers reconcile, something clearly not in the cards for those who were providing them with dialogue.

The other poet of the evening, Peter Meinke, won my heart over early by starting by saying, "Well, after that, I'm sure hearing from an old white guy is just what you want." The theme of the evening was Memory & Desire, and he too wrote about yearning.  The poem of his that particularly stuck for me was about long married tennis players, and the empty space when one players is no longer there to send the ball over the net. He also read a section about children disappearing into the fog while sledding, a haunting image. His later book is a children's book, with illustrations by his wife Jeanne Clark.  Jeanne was in the audience, and when after the reading, the poets took questions, including on collaboration given Duhamel's long experience with it, Meinke noted that he did not collaborate; Jeanne piped in with "We collaborate in different rooms."  Each is in charge of their own art in their own way, which was perhaps the theme overall.  Collaborative or not, the words find voice through sharp and dedicated minds.

I left the theater with that good glow knowing that there are people out there creating, laughing, and transforming the painful into the sublime.  I love what words used well can do, the access they give to our messy little souls.

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