Poetry and artwork - Henry Denander

Wolfgang Carstens at Poetry Suite101, Canada


There is no greater place than The Accidental Navigator to lose yourself in the mythology and magical landscape that Henry Denander is creating.
Henry Denander’s newest book, The Accidental Navigator, released through Lummox Press out of San Pedro, California, presents fifty new poems, thirty-six collected poems, and a short story. What strikes you immediately with this new collection is that Henry Denander is a natural comedian. From the first page until the last, waiting like booby traps amongst the astute observations about human nature, anecdotes, and philosophy, there are great jokes and mighty laughter.
“Not by wrath, but by laughter, do we kill. Come, let us kill the spirit of gravity!” – Friedrich Nietzsche
Denander, in many of his poems, uses his own flawed nature as the foundation upon which he constructs his humorous verse. The opening poem, “Beauty Sleep,” for example, relates how he sleeps at night with a CPAP, “a device that blows/air into [his] nose” to prevent his loud snoring. The only drawback to wearing the device, as Denander explains, is that his wife realizes that instead of resembling “the handsome young man/she married,” he looks “more like Hannibal Lecter.” The poem ends fittingly with “I think she prefers/the silence of the Lambs/to the Thunder in the Night.”
This “Thunder in the Night” theme continues in Denander’s poem “Call the police,” where he remarks that the “teenage kids” living in the flat upstairs often keep him awake at night with their loud partying. The kids’ father, at one point, asks him if there is any problem with the noise at night – but Denander doesn’t complain. One morning, however, he meets one of the teenage kids, Calle, and she tells him “I can hear you snoring from below, you must be snoring really loud.” At this point, the poet realizes that the kids next door “have no respect for [him]” and that he has been “too kind to them.” He comes to the realization that the next time they are loud at night, he will “call the police./Before they do.”
In one of the funniest poems in the volume, “Ghikas & the razor,” the poet walks into the grocery store whereupon Ghikas, the owner, comments on his long beard. When he explains that "it had/grown too long to shave" and that he hasn’t time to go see the barber, Ghikas says that every time he “slaughters a pig he shaves it...” with “the Bic Metal Plus T7” because “it’s the only one that works.” Ghikas gives one of the razors to Denander and later that evening when they pass each other in the street, Ghikas comments upon his “clean-shaven” friend by saying “You look nice.”
“The most important thing for a writer to learn is what not to say” – John Yamrus
Many of Denander’s poems achieve the goal expressed in “This poet.” Here, he pays homage to an un-named American poet who concludes poems “without a tag/and an obvious ending” – a poet who leaves everything “hanging in the air/for you to catch.” Denander has learned the importance of (as the great poet John Yamrus recently remarked in the press release of his newest book, Can't Stop Now!) “what not to say.” Poems like “Ghikas & the razor,” “Call the police,” and numerous others require the reader to put the pieces together, connect the dots, and catch what Denander has left “hanging in the air.” By not treating his readers like idiots, Denander connects with them and establishes an intimate bond.
Denander often puts his wife and son into his poetry to help set-up the joke and deliver the punch-line. In “Nursing,” for example, he recounts the time he rushed to the hospital to have “a really painful/kidney stone” removed. As he explains the procedure to his ten year-old son, William, he says that two “nurses started by cleaning/my weenie.” At this point William interrupts his father and asks, innocently enough, “Did there really have to be two nurses to do that?” The joke here is fantastic – yet the narrator, stoically concludes “it was a good question.”
In his poem “Life and death in the bowling alley,” Denander, who hasn’t bowled in “twenty years” but “used to be really good” is encouraged by his wife and son to go bowling on his wife’s birthday. After throwing “three strikes,” he injures his hand so badly that three weeks later he goes to the hospital to see if the finger “was broken.” As he’s waiting for the results of his x-ray, he muses “this was/the price I had to pay for/trying to beat the shit out of/my seven year old son and/his mother on her birthday.”
In “WIPE,” a poem that employs the absence of Denander’s family to deliver the punch-line, he explains that he’s submitting work to a “magazine called WIPE,/and all art should be on sheets of toilet paper.” In trying to find the best paper, he buys “five different brands of Greek toilet paper” from the local grocery store. When Sofia, a woman who knows Denander, looks in his basket, she starts laughing and asks “Your family has left now?” When he replies “Yes, yes, I am here by myself this last week,” the masterbation joke reaches its climax. Sophia laughs again, whereupon the poet adds “I wonder what she’s thinking.” The only thing that could possibly follow this exchange is awkward silence, as Denander concludes “Her English is not perfect and my Greek is really bad so/I refrain from trying to explain...” because “It’s not easy to explain anyway.”
“By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his chosen goal or destination.” – Christopher Columbus
The fantastic wit and humor which characterizes many of these poems is masterfully crafted in “The accidental navigator,” the title poem from Denander’s newest collection. Denander lays the foundation of the joke by saying that scientists believe there was a mix-up in the seventeenth century when the remains of Christopher Columbus were moved to the Sevilla cathedral in Spain. Apparently, instead of the remains of Christopher Columbus, they had mistakenly moved the remains of Columbus’ son. He goes on to relate how when Columbus “discovered America,” he actually believed that he’d “reached Asia,” and that when he’d reached Cuba, he thought he’d landed “in Japan.” Denander takes full advantage of history by returning to comment on the mishap in Spain. “Now it seems [Christopher Columbus] is lost/in Sevilla as well.” Here, Denander presents a perfect history lesson that just happens to be hilarious.
The Accidental Navigator is a book that is worthy of multiple readings, careful study and detailed analysis.
Some of Denander’s best poems are centered around the Greek island of Hydra, where Denander and his wife, Marie, have kept a summer home since 1985. In “Henry’s view,” which ranks among the best poems I’ve read, he recounts how Henry Miller “could see straight/into the houses of the Greek families” as he passed “the island of Poros on his way to/Hydra in 1939.” He then remarks how he’s always tried to “catch this view” and how today he “saw the three story house with the big balcony doors and at/the far end of the big room I saw an old woman on a/chair looking out at the ship.” Here, Denander remarks that “it could be the same woman now sixty-four years later” and that perhaps “she was looking for Henry the same way/I was looking for her.” This poem contains that eerie brilliance that characterizes the best Twilight Zone episode you can imagine – boiled down into fifteen lines!
This Twilight Zone feeling is further explored in Denander’s short story, “The poetry of Mr. Blue.” Here, the narrator, Mr. Blue, receives a mysterious letter from “Harold White,” a talented painter whom the narrator learns had “died earlier [that] summer.” As Mr. Blue explores the final works of Mr. White which hang on the walls in a local art gallery, he realizes that they are depictions of the poetry Mr. Blue has been working on all summer. This is a bizarre occurrence considering the fact that Mr. Blue and Mr. White had never met. “I find painting after painting with titles or motives that are based on the poems I’ve written. It feels like I’m in a vacuum, everything else around me has stopped and is erased and gone.” As Mr. Blue delves deeper into this mystery, everything is thrown into question – including his very existence.
This is a remarkable book worthy of multiple readings, careful study and detailed analysis. Whether you are new to the writing of Henry Denander, or you are already a dedicated reader, there is no greater place than The Accidental Navigator to lose yourself in the humor, mythology and magical landscape that Denander is creating.
Wolfgang Carstens
Editor at Epic Rites Press
Review from Poetry Suite 101