Tuesday, May 15, 2012



Enjoy Hot or Iced: Poems in Conversation and a Conversation by Denise Duhamel and Amy Lemmon
(Slapering Hol Press, Sleepy Hollow, NY, 2011)

This chapbook, produced in a run of 500 numbered copies, is one of the most elegantly produced I've ever encountered. The paper used for the text pages (Stardream) has a silvery metallic sheen; the stock for the cover (also Stardream) is a metallic green. The flyleaf page (UV Ultra) is a vellum on which the black outlines of shards have been printed. The shapes of three of the shards have been die-cut through both the front cover and the flyleaf, allowing part of an abstract painting by Kentaro Fujioka ("Elements") to peek through.

The table of contents indicates that the poems alternate between those by Lemmon and those by Duhamel. Echoing the shards of the cover art, the poems dwell on breakage and death -- the loss of trust, the loss of love, the death of relationships, the death of a loved one. The first two poems lean toward a skewed formality -- "Enjoy Hot and Iced" irregularly hints at slant rhymes, and "Boxed Set Sestina" is presented as a prose poem. The recital of decay and damage on the very first page offer a stark constrast to the sleek page it's printed on, physically seconding the speaker's declaration that her ex-lover's self-image isn't in sync with the reality:
…You think you're kind, you think
you're sensible, you think you're something
I can't quite imagine. What of the Monet's
lily-pads of mold on Earl Grey cooling in the jar?
The brown scrub-nulling scum that clings
to the worn Picasso mug? The ghosts of shattered crockery,
the cartoon souls of slain French press carafes?
Nods to form are also visible in "Audacious: An Acrostic" and "I Read" ("trochee, iamb, a few spondees thrown in for when I'm really pounding"); "Asymptotic" is a sonnet, and in the interview ("Conversation") that closes the collection, Duhamel and Lemmon discuss the influence of Molly Peacock and Emily Dickinson.

The poems hold a magnifying glass up to women's cruelty to themselves. The narrator of "Missing Inaction" cancels out her binges on fattening foods with "The antidote: / these walks, down these streets where I see your fucking / car fucking everywhere." The narrator of "Madonna and Me" captures the sick logic of women trying to navigate the seas of self-judgment:
I mean if Madonna was getting divorced
it couldn't be so bad right
and she'd be OK and I'd be OK

…and why didn't I dial 911
when it got really bad
Madonna didn't either all those years ago
when Sean tied her to a chair
though maybe that never happened
and it was just a Hollywood rumor
and even Madonna
who talked about everything
never talked about that
because that kind of stuff just doesn't happen
to strong women like Madonna and me

For me, the most haunting poem of Enjoy Hot or Iced is "Expired," an ode to an asthma inhaler that belonged to the speaker's dead father. It chronicles two other threads of resistance to change -- from Albuterol to Proventil, and from cream to skim milk -- within the larger reluctance to let go of a parent who has passed away.

A few pages later, in "Please Be Patient," the narrator pleads with "Patience, the cruelest of muses" to spend more time with her. Trapped on a New York City subway train, the narrator exhorts the "bulky" yet elusive goddess to "teach me/your secret, explain the way breath can slow," promising "cappucino and croissants if you'll stay/just an hour, warm me with your pedestrian gaze." And a few pages beyond that, the motifs of breath and beverages reappear in "Asymptotic," its narrator observing a woman and a man

now sipping cognac, Côtes du Rhône, some drink
that stings. … Dessert dispatched, they part,
breath held till each is off the other's chart.

The Hudson Valley Writers' Center (the parent organization of Slapering Hol Press) and the sponsors of the chapbook (which include at least five agencies) are to be commended for making its design and publication possible. It is a pleasure to linger with a book assembled with such precision, even as its contents dwell on the messiness of emotions and how they infect so much of what we see.


Peg Duthie is the author of MEASURED EXTRAVAGANCE (Upper Rubber Boot Books, 2012). 

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