Visiting writer series returns strong
By Sarah Hill
Competing against a basketball game and tornado warnings might cause some poets trouble drawing a crowd; this was not true for Denise Duhamel and Nick Carbo who read works ranging in nature from Barbie and Ken attempting to have sex to the tales of Ang Tunay Na Lalaki, a bare-chested muscled character of Philippine hard liquor commercials.
Laughter echoed from the Johnson room of Robertson Hall Thursday night for the wife and husband duo, the first visiting writers of the second semester. The reading was also the first to occur after the death of Vivian L. Delbrook, the series endower.
Duhamel, winner of the Crab Orchard Poetry Prize and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, began the night by reading from her book "Two and Two." She wrote the poem, “Noah and Joan,” after hearing that when asked who Joan of Arc was, twenty percent of Americans responded, Noah’s wife.
She critiques society in the poem saying, “I’ll admit it- Americans are pretty dumb and forgetful when it comes to history. And they’re notorious for interpreting the Bible to suit themselves.” The poem goes on to describe the life Joan would have had if she had been the wife of Noah rather than a French martyr who died at 19.
In her book "Kinky," Duhamel again comments on society through the use of Barbie as her main character. Duhamel read one of the works from "Kinky" in which she describes Barbie and Ken “trying to do it” but they have nothing to do it with and so they must be creative. Barbie and Ken experiment with removing each others parts; Ken removes her leg and tries to stick his arm in the empty socket, and Barbie also encourages him to try on her outfits. According to Duhamel, she used humor in her poetry to discuss feminist and political issues.
“I thought she [Barbie] was a really interesting vehicle or metaphor for women,” Duhamel said during the question and answer session following the reading. “She always has to smile, even if a dog is chewing her arm off.”
When asked what it was like to be married to another poet, Duhamel responded that they went into it making a pact to be in poverty together forever. She described her familiarity with poverty in the poem “Egg roll” in which she debates using the last of her savings, seven dollars, to buy herself an egg roll.
When Carbo came to the podium after Duhamel, he informed the audience that he would be reading a poem that included genitals and if anyone needed to leave he would turn his back and they could do so. When Carbo turned back around, no one had left the room. In the poem, “Grammaronics,” Carbo said he was trying to explain grammar to his students so he made it “sexy.”
According to Carbo, the most important aspects that he conveys to readers through his poetry are political. He said that he uses poetry to reveal the hypocrisy of conquerors of empires. In his book "Secret Agent Man," Carbo takes his main character Ang Tunay Na Lalaki, an immigrant from the Philippines, and brings him to New York.
Throughout the book Ang Tunay Na Lalaki has many encounters and experiences such as visiting famous museums, watching TV, and meeting women. In one of Na Lalaki’s adventures, he meets Duhamel’s main character Barbie at a bar. Barbie says to him, “I was made in the Philippines; it looks like you were made there too.”
Lightning began to illuminate the windows behind Carbo towards the end of his reading, and soon the tornado sirens were sounding.
“Should we run?” asked Carbo. “I’ll finish this poem first.”
Carbo finished his reading on a note of laughter from the audience, and after spending an evening in the world of Barbie and Philippine immigrants, it was time for audience members to brave the cold rain and head back to reality.