Bruce Hodder at The Beatnik, UK
In the Country of Nice Things
The Accidental Navigator: New and Selected Poems and a Story
by Henry Denander (Lummox Press)
A new book by Henry Denander is always good news. This one isn’t completely new, since I received my review copy in October, but who knows, maybe a few of you won’t have come across it yet. And if I want to keep getting books as good as this mailed to me for free I have to keep up my part of the bargain.
I like Henry Denander. You should know that. My memory isn’t good, but I believe our paths first crossed nearly a decade ago, in a brilliant print magazine run by Bryn Fortey. Outlaw. I could see then that he knew about jazz and he knew about Charles Bukowski, two things that sell a man or woman to me pretty quickly even to this day. When I got to know him better I realised that he had adapted Bukowski’s apparently plain (though technically adept) narrative style to create his own distinctive voice, which is the four-leaved clover in the poetry game; so few of us achieve it you could write all of the names down while the kettle was boiling and still have time to check your Facebook. I also discovered as my familiarity with Henry grew that he was a good painter and a really nice guy.
You would not think that the latter detail mattered very much, but it’s important when it comes to a consideration of his poetry. That voice, the person speaking to us out of the poems in The Accidental Navigator and Henry’s other books, is, to use Gerald Locklin’s word, a ‘congenial’ one. Mature, witty, reasonable, not at all given to the posturing often evident in those who have taken Bukowski as their leader instead of a significant signpost on the road to liberation of style and content. Henry Denander pretends to be nobody and his poems are filled with the matter of his own life.
But then, Henry’s life is not an ordinary one. He described himself somewhere as a ‘bean counter’ in the entertainment industry, and in the course of counting those beans he has met a fair few legends of jazz and other musical forms - one poem in the collection, “Royalty Advances”, concerns his separate dealings with a “fantastic guitar and harmonica player” (we can only wonder who that is) and Chet Baker, who had much more of the Beat spirit about him when receiving his money. Henry also keeps a home on a Greek island, being financially comfortable and unashamed of it – it is usually the done thing for poets to claim they work in a drive-thru’ and have holes in their shoes (I really have, by the way) – so the collection features Mediterranean poems too, suffused with the warmth and simplicity and companionship of his life there. I like these a lot, for whatever the opinion of someone who has never been to Greece might be worth.
A new(ish) development, if I’m not mistaken, is the poetry of ageing. Henry talks about kidney stones in “A Perfect Client” and “Nursing” (they insert something into your Johnson – ouch). In “Modern Times” we read of headache treatments and other parts of the body that might need a cure. But it is jazz and Bukowski to whom he continually returns, musing even on the Wormwood Review and in one poem, on the first name he and Buk share. If he had known about Bukowski as a young man, he says, he would have been proud to be another Henry.
An artist, a thinker, even a human being with no other attachable label, is defined by his or her passions, and it’s an act of generosity for Henry to share his with us. In the prose story that finishes the book, however, he decants into less familiar territory with “The Poetry of Mr. Blue”, a narrative that namechecks an author some might not be familiar with, Paul Auster. Crammed with Auster references and Auster-ish unresolved mysteries and coincidences, it’s an unexpected, skilful and slightly spooky piece. What’s even more spooky is that I’d just started rereading Paul Auster as I was finishing Henry’s book. I know he will appreciate that fact even if nobody else does. Paul Auster, of course, is too safe in the hands of the Academics now to care.
Editor at The Beatnik