Poetry and artwork - Henry Denander

Justin Barrett - Remark

Book Review by Justin Barrett, January 2003. Published in the webmagazine Remark, Issue #17:

I Know What She Will Say by Henry Denander * 28 pgs * from Bottle of Smoke Press / 503 Tuliptree Square / Leesburg, VA 20176 www.bospress.net

If you're like me then you have far too much bad poetry (either yours or someone else's) and far too little good art (ditto) in your life. I find that poetry is akin to Chinese food: there are many restaurants that make it, but very few that make it well. Suffice it to say that Henry Denander makes good Chinese food.

I Know What She Will Say is Henry's first collection and it contains 20 wonderful poems complete with his fantastic illustrations. There is also a Foreword by Gerald Locklin that sums up exactly what Henry means to the poetry world.

Henry's poetry is unique. You see, Henry is Swedish. Now, I've never been to Sweden, and I'm sure there are plenty of Swedish poets (even a few that write in English), but Henry is unique in the fact that he writes beautiful poems in perfect English. You would be hard pressed to tell he was from Sweden, save for a few quirky phrasings and the occasional odd yet appropriate metaphor. His poems are short, to the point and insightful.

In the poem Paradise (Vienna Airport, January 2002) Denander relays a simple family trip home from Athens. We've all had a similar trip, stuck in an airport, waiting to get home, when he suddenly hears "a message called out on the speakers://"Passenger Bukowski, please proceed to gate eight"." At this odd moment Henry ponders: "Perhaps this is paradise?" I'd have to say it probably was. Henry is a master at the reflective poem. He takes an everyday occurrence and twists it to end with a philosophical comment. He notices the important in the unimportant; the extraordinary in the mundane; the great in the mediocre.

In synonyms (my favorite poem in the collection) Denander tells his readers that he has trouble with English because he is Swedish. He tells us that he has bought a synonym lexicon so that he may broaden his vocabulary, in order to emulate his American literary heroes (Bukowski, Fante, Locklin). He finds that armed with his new vocabulary, he is going to try to incorporate them into his next poem. This is where the genius of Henry Denander exists: the endings. He then proceeds, in the final stanza, to use all his newfound words and does so correctly and humorously.

I Know What She Will Say is well worth the $5.00. For 20 poems and 13 illustrations you can't beat that price. Throw in the foreword by Locklin and wonderful picture of the poet, and you'll have yourself a wonderful collection of contemporary poetry. Do yourself a favor and get some real good Chinese food!

Justin Barrett