with bite-sized prose, conVERSEverse seeds moments to read about what the poetry community here has done, what we’re doing now, and how we’re thinking about the future of poetry on + off chain.

A blonde woman with long curly hair wearing a blue diamond-patterned blouse. She is leaning against a tree.

Jun 11, 2022

conVERSEverse with Denise Duhamel

Denise Duhamel is an inaugural theVERSEverse poet with an esteemed background in the traditional poetry world. Her poetic collection for the gallery explores the recent death of her mother, the commodification of feminism and the female form, and the social expectations surrounding different genders. In this feature of conVERSEverse, Denise talks about the joy of collaborating with visual artists, the way NFTs can give the audience a stronger understanding of the poem and poet, and more. Enjoy!

For more information about Denise’s prior poetry publications and fellowship awards, click here.


VV: As a well-established poet, how did you get into crypto/NFTs? 

DD: Through theVERSEverse founder Ana Caballero! Ana is a student of mine at Florida International University. She wrote to me about theVERSEverse and she sent me some examples and I thought, this is amazing. Because for years, I’ve always been a big proponent of collaboration. I’ve worked a lot with visual artists in the past on physical things like broadsides, artist books, text to go with paintings, etc. So, once I understood what crypto poetry was, I was down with it right away.

VV: Much of your work featured on the VERSEverse is collaborative. You’ve worked with Vanessa Coleman, Marlon Portales, Nathaniel Stern, to name a few. Could you tell us about your experience collaborating with visual artists in the NFT space? What is new or different about collaboration in poetry NFTs?

DD: What I love so much is the synergy that happens without meeting or even speaking to each other.

For example, Marlon Portales and I collaborated on “Independence Day (Hospice)”. The poem is about my own mother who passed last summer. In Martin’s rendering, he uses his mother as a real model. It’s her. My mother was a lot older when she passed, so then I see this younger breast, a woman with long hair, and learn it’s his own mother – it gave me the chills. I believe the “Confessional” poem is also his mom’s own hand.

It’s a universal thing: we’re all afraid of losing our mother. The mother is your first home. I mean, you were actually in there. Luckily, his mom is very much still alive and posing for his drawings and is a big supporter of his art, but [his interpretation] captures the idea that we are all afraid of losing people we love. These connections are really special.

For another poem called “Capitalism”, I was paired with artist Nathanial Stern, who happens to be a poet himself on theVERSEverse. Capitalism is a poem I wrote about women, body image, and this idea of perfection that women seem to have to deal with all the time.

As a feminist writer, I found it really fascinating that Nathaniel used a line drawing of a “regular” woman’s body, whereas in the artwork for “Sex”, which was by Marlon Portales, Marlon used a more idealized form of a woman’s body. It’s fascinating to think about who is going to interpret which poems in what way. I wonder if these poems were reversed, how would Marlon do the “Capitalism” poem and how would Nathaniel do the “Sex” poem?

We see the way poems are not fixed in time to mean one single thing to everybody – so much is interpretation.


VV: Who or what has been your biggest inspiration in poetry NFTs?

DD: I was so excited to see Christian Bök on theVERSEverse. His poem “Translating, Translating, Apollinaire” is just fascinating. Guillaume Apollinaire is a famous French poet who did these shape poems. I teach about them all the time in my classes. What Christian did with shapes in this one – my mind – I just – I can’t even. As creative as I think I am, I could never do that

That is what is really fascinating about the crypto poets: their work comes even more alive [with NFTs]. Even for me, as a more narrative thinker, I want to say that I understand Christian’s poetry better in the crypto. It brings it to life, literally: it starts moving around and you get this sense of the continuity of his giant imagination.


VV: Tell us more about what inspired some of your other poetry NFTs.

DD: Another Summer of Love”*  is illustrated by Natalie Larrodé, and what makes it so interesting to me is that she focused not on the fact my mother stopped wearing a bra or even the hippieness, but instead on the flower. I just started crying when I saw this interpretation. It’s just beautiful. It could be a flower on the grave or a continuation of life. It’s almost like bringing someone back to life in a weird way. I thought that was a really smart interpretation.

Vanessa Coleman illustrated the two cruise haikus, “Belly Contest” and “Botox Demonstration”. They were basically found poems. I took my mother on a cruise for her 80th birthday and they really advertised: “Upper pool, man with the biggest, hairiest stomach flab wins!” and I thought that cannot be true, but it was! At the same time, women could get free Botox needles. So basically, the message was, men, you go be fat and belly flop and get a prize, and women you can go get Botox. It’s horrible! Vanessa did a great job with the lion and its marble globe and the big drink in “Belly Contest”, and then a classically beautiful woman statue in “Botox Demonstration”. She really got it.

VV: What things have you enjoyed about creating in the NFT space so far?

DD: What I’ve really enjoyed is the opening up of the idea that poetry can be considered a collectible. Poets write a poem and it’s kind of ephemeral; you write a book and you don’t really know who bought the book, it’s just kind of out there in the world. But this creates a community who can say “Hey, I bought this thing!”

Also, the fact that one person owns a piece of poetry, but the website is up for everyone to enjoy. You don’t have to buy it to enjoy it. It’s not like in the art world, which can be so snobby and exclusive and just for the rich. As long as you have an internet connection or a phone, you can look at all of these poems.

I’ve also enjoyed the styles of poet here! Like Christian Bök, who is very experimental, is a very different poet than Julie Marie Wade, who is a very narrative poet. One of my favorite poets, David Hernandez, who is a visual artist himself, he’s here too. It’s great to have these different voices.

One more thing I’ve noticed about art and NFTs – I have some amazing broadsides on really delicate paper, and I need to be so careful with them. Whereas poetry NFTs kind of exist in a place where you don’t have to be careful. They’re not going to break.

*”Another Summer of Love” is curated in CADAF Digital Art Month along with other theVERSEverse poets. Check it out!

written by Elisabeth Sweet, Community Manager at theVERSEverse. Follow her on Twitter @speciesofvalue

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