Gabriela Anaya Valdepeña


On Richard Denner

Richard Denner is one of the most prolific, and one of the most egregiously under-celebrated, poetic geniuses of our time. This is not necessarily to Richard's dismay; he finds freedom in his own cocoon, even as he graciously accepts whatever honors he has been unable to avoid. This independence is his power; he seems to require no other validation than his own judgment and his private fancy. But like Whitman's "noiseless patient spider" he takes the entire world into his gut, spinning a magnificent web that is sure to capture us all in time.

A quick glance through his Collected Poems immediately makes clear the range of his interests and the variety of his tone, as well as the liveliness, the persistent energy that brightens even the darkest material. His poems sing the mundane, and yet revel in the secrets of the grave. He celebrates the vulgarity of joy while at the same time exposing the euphoria of sadness. All is interwoven into a language that combines simplicity, beauty, and witty evocations of a cosmic logic. "I have enough love to make the stars ache," Richard tells us in Night of Mystic Rain, "and I can afford to buy the silence I become." Though he is a man with emotion to spare, he never wastes a word.

Like all poets who remain true to the willful muse, Richard seems impervious to the petty shibboleths of both peer and public. There is no dogma of obscurity; nor is there a fawning transparency. "I want mustard on my hotdog," he tells us in Sermon on the Mound, a sentiment we can all understand and share, even as our thoughts cannot help but wander to the parable of the seed and the Kingdom of Heaven. Richard knows that poetry does not have to be fully understood to be enjoyed, nor does it need to frustrate understanding to be celebrated. That is why his work can seem an open book to the curious naive, while to the literate remaining a mystery to feed our myths.

Richard also delights in a free, and sometimes hilarious, exploitation of multiple personae. Just when you begin to fall in love with one of them, he will create a new voice to steal your devotion from the last. Whether Rychard Artaud, Richard Denner, Bouvard Pécuchet, or Jampa Dorje, who Richard is, is who he isn't—who he becomes, kills, or resurrects. One gets the feeling that anything, or anyone, who threatens to get in the way of Richard's art, will become his art. I find myself seduced and yet aching to run away. I want to dance in my pajamas, and drown in the hilarity of my pulse. Sometimes it is his understatement that wins me over; sometimes it is his unapologetic bombast:


He is crude. He is romantic. He is a shy poet who seduces with magical honesty.

Richard's confidence in the multiple self allows him to develop an intimate relationship with his own poetic heroes. He is free to humanize, to exalt, and to steal. In the poem Commitment Richard describes both himself, and Ezra Pound, at once:

the poet sits alone
in the Idlewild Airport Café
sketching his next Canto
C Beef 65¢
Coke 10¢
comfort after 14 years
in a Washington D. C mental ward

As in Pound, the power of vision transcends the most prosaic environment. And in Captain of Poetry, his poem on the death of T. S. Eliot, Richard walks the shore, like Prufrock, and eloquently democratizes the futility of "the overwhelming question":

I figure he has the answer
to the question now, but
what do you do with it
when you're dead?

Indeed, it is not enough to have just one life, one voice, one style, one self. And there is never enough time to wait for validation from your peers. Stare at the mirror just long enough to grow a mustache and beard, and then greet the stranger before you. Richard is legion, for he is many: devil, man, Buddha, worm, and rain.