NY poet Ariel Francisco came to talk about the work of his teacher, Denise Duhamel. In the process, we got to discuss the position of a speaker in relation to a body of work, writing for love, and even a little Frank O’Hara.
Black: Why did you choose Denise Duhamel to read from?
Francisco: She was my first poetry teacher, I love her, and her work, very much. I think I was 19 when I took my first workshop with her (almost a decade ago now)—and didn’t know much about poetry and had no real idea who she was. But she’s really the first person to introduce me to contemporary poetry, through her classes (the first book of contemporary poetry I read was Facts About the Moon by Dorianne Laux in her class) and then through her work. Not only that but she was also the first person to really encourage me in my writing. I don’t know where I’d be if it wasn’t for her and those early classes. My experience with poetry had been mostly awful in high school.
Black: Why these particular poems?
Francisco: “How It Will End” is one of my all-time favorite poems.
I went to a reading Denise was giving at a nearby college when I was in one of her classes. I figured it was a good opportunity to see what my professor put into practice. I don’t think I’d read her work at all at this point. The poem was either the first one she read or the last, but it had been in my mind (and her voice) since that evening.
I love it because I can recognize the location—almost certainly Hollywood Beach, where I would go to skip class in high school and spent most of my summer there between senior year and freshman year of college, having my own series of unfortunate and/or unsuccessful romances. I also love the level of observation taking place, so in depth that the speaker gets lost in it, emerging only at the end.
“Love-Struck In New York,” is another kind of love poem. This poem is from Smile!, her first book, but what’s really amazing to me (and something that I’ve adapted to my own writing I think) is that this is the same ‘I’ as the one in “How It Will End,” years earlier. It’s tricky to call poems autobiographical, and I won’t, but there is definitely a consistency of the ‘I’ in Denise’s poems, throughout the years and the books, so all the previous poems inform the newer ones as a reader (at least to me).
Black: What is the take away of the speaker of these poems? Is it a love of, or at least preservation of, the self that is present in both of these poems?
Francisco: I think it’s a bit of both. The preservation of the present self is a really interesting way to look at it. The ‘I’ in “Love-Struck In New York” to me is the same ‘I’ in “How It Will End,” two poems that give two very different instances of love (as both a feeling and a concept). Did the speaker’s views on it change over time?
“Love-Struck … ” really captures the brief intensity of it (the brevity not necessarily being a negative here), the speaker is steeped in it, and so we get the outsider’s kind-of-perplexed reactions to her. In “How It Will End” though, the speaker seems to be viewing love from a distance, which is perhaps a metaphor in and of itself.
Black: Is there a connection between these poems or Duhamel’s work in general and your own work?
Francisco: Oh yeah. I’ve definitely taken what I think is a similar approach to poems, which is “this is me where I am in my life right now at this moment.” I, too, am writing love-struck poems in New York, or sad poems on Hollywood Beach (god, so many), or poems where I am somewhere thinking or doing something. I think that awareness of self (which is maybe different than self-awareness) is something that I’ve inherited from her both as her student and just as a close reader of her work. If I had to guess, I’d say she inherited that from Frank O’Hara (I do this, I do that).
Black: What are you working on now?
Francisco: More poems, always poems. Also a few translation projects. I’ve been sending out a manuscript of my dad’s poems which is pretty exciting.
Denise Duhamel is the author of thirteen books of poetry, four chapbooks, and has collaborated on several works with Maureen Seaton. Duhamel’s latest book, Blowout (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013) was shorlisted for the American Book Critic’s Circle Award. Duhamel teaches at Florida International University and Converse College.
Links to the good stuff:
Anna Black has served as the editor-in-chief of the magazines Hayden’s Ferry Review and Inkspeak, and is a twice awarded Virginia G. Piper global teaching and research fellow. Black received her MFA at Arizona State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter, edited by poet Andrea Gibson and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, SWWIM, The American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others. She has taught composition, creative writing, and/or publishing at Arizona State University, Western Washington University, Perryville Women’s Prison, and the National University of Singapore. For Sundress Publications she organizes the Poets in Pajamas reading series and Lyric Essentials.