||Denise Duhamel is a one-woman phenomenon in modern American poetry. Her work is read, heard and appreciated by a broad audience which crosses generations, as well as gender, political, racial and other divides. She has been identified as a seminal figure in the movement that has come to be known as stand-up poetry, and is one of the most acknowledged and reprinted American poets of recent decades.
This thesis considers Duhamel's work in the context of her life and career. It seeks to identify the characteristics of her poetry which account for her genre-transcending appeal, and to trace the genesis of those characteristics in her experiences, especially those during her time as a graduate student in the Creative Writing Program at Sarah Lawrence College in New York in the eighties.
One interesting and important factor is her use of humor in her poems, and her appropriation of elements from stand-up comedy (a feature often cited as the hallmark of stand-up poetry). A significant part of the present thesis is therefore devoted to an analysis of this much under-theorized area of literary culture, with a view to better understanding Duhamel's use of humor and “joke-work,” and in particular the way in which she makes use of comedy and comedic devices to build a rapport with her audience. This aspect of her work is compared and contrasted with the way in which similar themes are used by stand-up comics themselves, with a focus on the role played by the theme of abjection, and two great exponents of abject humor from past and present: Lenny Bruce, and Sarah Silverman.
Having considered these aspects in some detail, the thesis closes with a brief assessment of the characterization of Duhamel as a stand-up poet, and concludes that Sandra Tarling's definition of the stand-up poet as writing firstly for the page, and only subsequently for the stage, does not fit Duhamel especially well, since her poetry is first and foremost a performative endeavor.