The Star-Spangled Banner


The Star-Spangled Banner, Denise Duhamel's sixth book of poems, is about falling in love, American-style, with someone who is not American.

In the title poem, a small American girl mishears the first line of "The Star-Spangled Banner" as "José, can you see?", which leads her to imagine a foreign lover of an American woman dressed in a star-spangled gown. The misunderstandings caused by language recur throughout the book: contemplating what "yes" means in different cultures; ...

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The Star-Spangled Banner

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The Star-Spangled Banner, Denise Duhamel's sixth book of poems, is about falling in love, American-style, with someone who is not American.

In the title poem, a small American girl mishears the first line of "The Star-Spangled Banner" as "José, can you see?", which leads her to imagine a foreign lover of an American woman dressed in a star-spangled gown. The misunderstandings caused by language recur throughout the book: contemplating what "yes" means in different cultures; watching Nickelodeon's "Nick at Nite" with a husband who grew up in the Philippines and never saw The Patty Duke Show; misreading another poet's title "The Difference Between Pepsi and Coke" as "The Difference Between Pepsi and Pope" and concluding that "Pepsi is all for premarital sex. / The Pope won't stain your teeth." Misunderstandings also abound as characters mingle with others from different classes. In "Cockroaches," a father-in-law refers to budget-minded American college students backpacking in Europe as cockroaches, not realizing his daughter-in-law was once, not so long ago, such a student/roach herself.

With welcome levity and refreshing irreverence, The Star-Spangled Banner addresses issues of ethnicity, class, and gender in America.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Duhamel’s careful yet freewheeling musings employ a seamlessly shifting digital palette of techniques, devices, and tones, all in the service of a poet able to maintain distance yet remain engaged and human. She is much like this last-call century of ours, searching for the point from which to take a running leap to a new kind of poetry. The playfulness, the quirky self-consciousness, the roll-up-your-sleeves-and-fight examination of the self, and the casual anecedotal quality of Duhamel’s lines go a long way to make these poems a pleasure."—Rain Taxi

"Filled with lyric, narrative, and prose poems, this collection underscores Duhamel’s versatility. For this she has received accolades and descriptions befitting Rosie O’Donnell at one end of the spectrum and Walt Whitman at the other. . . . Walking with Duhamel is a powerful way to spend some time. Whether she maneuvers with zany humor or the kind of humor that holds terror at bay, you can count on a laugh. You can also count on a fearless and compassionate spirit willing to shine a merciful light on social issues."—Cæsura

"Denise Duhamel will make even the sourest sour puss chuckle. . . . Duhamel adds levity to the painful and the all-American and the personal. May she charm her readership with her insights."—Poet Lore

"[W]hat unites these poems is a strong sense of a speaker, who is smart and witty, who lapses into moments of insecurity, and who, most importantly, is a poet.  It is that perspective which gives these poems a unique appeal."—Indiana Review

"[S]o overwhelming is her relish for life that embarrassment, or titillation when the subject is sexual, just doesn't stand a chance. Life-affirming without being treacly, Duhamel is a character who assures us the world is full of character."—Booklist

Kirkus Reviews
Selected by Rodney Jones and published in conjunction with The Crab Orchard Review, Duhamel's latest collection is exuberant in a breathless, inarticulate way—she's happy to mock herself in these mostly autobiographical poems as ditsy and unsophisticated, though more than a little class resentment lies beneath the insouciance. Many of Duhamel's chatty and circular narratives concern her husband, whose wealthy Asian background leads to all sorts of comic confusion and cultural dissonance. Watching "Nick at Nite" with her husband Nick, she explains all the pop culture references and he shares his memories of TV in the Philippines; in "Yes," she tries to understand his stoicism with the help of a guide to Filipino etiquette; in "Bangungot," she dreams of him dying from a condition common to Filipino men; and in "Husband as a Second Language," she lists his malapropisms. She admires her dignified father-in-law, who mocks the common tourists in Europe ("Cockroaches"), and also grows to appreciate her husband's knowledge of European art ("Art"), which she feels ambivalent about because of her "working class" background. Misunderstanding is at the center of many of Duhamel's flighty poems: the title piece takes off from her childhood mishearing of the lyrics to the national anthem; another chronicles her misadventures buying tampons in Spain. Duhamel displays her candor with pieces about masturbating to Playboy photos; anal sex and an outraged minister; and her exhilaration at a Spanish nude beach. All personality and pose, these jokey poems are quickly forgotten.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780809322596
  • Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/1999
  • Series: Crab Orchard Series in Poetry
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Pages: 80
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Denise Duhamel's previous books and chapbooks of poetry include Exquisite Politics (with Maureen Seaton), Kinky, Girl Soldier, and How the Sky Fell. Her work has been anthologized in such volumes as The Best American Poetry 1998, The Best American Poetry 1994, and The Best American Poetry 1993.

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Table of Contents

Yes 3
The Difference Between Pepsi and Pope 5
Lines 7
The Little I Know about Eyes 9
Happy Ending 12
Stranger 13
Grace 14
How Much Is This Poem Going to Cost Me? 16
Bangungot 21
Insomnio 22
The Therapist's Funeral 25
White Virgin 26
Art 28
Nick at Nite 30
Where to Find Feminine Protection While Traveling in a Foreign Country 33
Cockroaches 35
Fairy Tale 37
Surgery 38
Scared about What Was There 40
I'm Dealing with My Pain 45
Tulip 46
House-Sitting 47
Sex with a Famous Poet 48
Skipping Breakfast 50
Another Poem Called "Sphincter" 52
June 13, 1995 54
A Kissing 59
Noctilucae 60
Husband as a Second Language 62
The Star-Spangled Banner 63
Playa Naturista 65
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