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140 the minnesota review Heaven and Heck by Denise Duhamel. Cortland, New York: Foundation Press, 1988. pp. 20. $5.00 (paper) Timepiece by Jane Flanders. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1988. pp. 58. $16.95 (cloth), $8.95 (paper). In her first chapbook, Denise Duhamel presents a complex poetry of witness, a coUection of free verse and prose poems about humanness and the Lower East Side of New York City. Duhamel, who recently won a New York Foundation for the Arts grant, is a young writer of unusual wit. Interweaving the poetries of love and poUtics with deftness and authority, Duhamel binds the poet to the sidewalk in "Fear on 1 1th Street and Avenue A," and finds herselfresponsible for everything, even the cracks. She looks to the only unlkely future that could bring us out of this quagmire when "one brown girl dancing by herself to a song on her Walkman" becomes an apocalyptic Christ figure. One of her red knee socks bunches at her ank and slips her sneaker. And the shoulder strap of her jumper has unbuckled so her bib flaps. Maybe she can save us. I clutch the schoolyard's chain Unk fence. Please, Uttle girl, grow up to be the pope or president. The title poem, "Heaven and Heck," unfolds with visual clarity, contrasting the bombed out shell of the Lower East Side where a "movie-set's condemned building is more colorful /than the real ones that surround it," with the religious and political philosophies which provide people with the backdrop to endure or escape. Duhamel s inhabitants of the Lower East Side wait for the apocalypse, the second coming , "as though the universe were a board game/ 'Chutes and Ladders,'" poUtical revolution or the next funny movie fantasy such as Batteries Not Included, about eviction-threatened tenants who are saved by aliens. The poet stands between the rubble of movie sets and the debris that is the real neighborhood, celebrating both with an ironic ambivalence. Let's face it, I'm as far away as the Yugoslavian make-beUeve saint who says, "Sure, I can see the Virgin Mary, too." Or the privileged blonde in Mixed Blood, another movie made in the neighborhood. She's trying to understand, fit in with the street kids, when she's shot in the head. About to die, she only laughs, "Heck, I must look like shit." Combining the techniques of cinema vente with the art ofstorytelling, Duhamel visualizes a social reality rich with depravity and microscopic intensity, but also with compassion that encompasses everything from the rats in her ceiling to the diseased girl in the abandoned tenement across the street. In "East 5th Street and Avenue B," Duhamel portrays people around her with the spellbound awe of a child. She always knocks softly, asks if I am sleeping. She has the front door keys and gets mail here because she used to live upstairs with Mary, who's blind in one eye and has such large hips she has to wear homemade dresses —one with forty pockets sewn down the front, a penny or a piece of candy she tells me in each one. She's a coUector and won't throw even her garbage away. Julie sneaks it out. Mary cried when Julie burned the rat's nest in her bed. DuhamePs poUtical poetry transcends the self-righteous, dogmatic or puritanical tendencies that so often plague this genre. By frequently placing herself in the center of the poem, as culpable as anyone, she frees us to examine our condition without accusation. For instance, again in "East 5th Street and Avenue B," the poet finds herself "scrubbing a seltzer glass extra rough" to rid herself of traces of a poor visitor with a lacerated Up; and, at the same Reviews 141 time, she hates herself for blaming the victim. In "Taboo," she imagines asking a drag queen: if it's that he really hates women, if he somehow sees us as cartoons, just one dimension. Of course, he'd say, "Why no, doll!" pause and then whisper, "You bitch." An ironic humor is everywhere in these poems by making tolerable what would otherwise be deadening...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 140-143
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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