Denise Duhamel, Author . Univ. of Pittsburgh $14.95 (72p) ISBN 978-0-8229-6021-8

In the midst of financial crisis, Duhamel’s 11th collection opens with prose poems printed on the back of pretend $100,000 bills, whose shape limits the length of the poems, suggesting the ways that money limits art and the world in which art is made. This power is most heartbreaking in the section “one-armed bandits,” which tells of a freak escalator accident in Atlantic City that injured the poet’s parents. With characteristic forthrightness, Duhamel (Two and Two ) recollects “blood soaking the silver escalator steps, the casino carpet.// Up and down and round and round. All the bald lemons and cherries spinning.” Duhamel’s blunt, occasionally playful voice is versatile, treating subjects like war, gender, porn, language and also illness: “I sobered up and looked at my plate of pale scrambled eggs,/ what I imagined cancer looked like.” Although long lines and expository prose blocks dominate this collection, the poet’s lyricism emerges in moments when she employs traditional form in surprising ways, such as a sestina in which every line ends with a variant of Sean Penn’s surname: “But honest, I come in peace, Sean Penn,/ writing on my plane ride home. I want no part of your penthouse/ on the snowy slopes of your Aspen.” Duhamel doesn’t break new aesthetic ground, but she has written some of the first poetry to deeply register the current economic crisis. (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 02/16/2009
Release date: 01/01/2009
Genre: Fiction
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