Johnny Little


Seek to Discover the Self

"Seek to discover the Self—the way, the poets say, is difficult," says Richard Denner in a poem he wrote in the Alaskan woods after escaping from being gassed in Berkeley. Denner seeks understanding of something lost. What was lost? And what was there to be gained by going deep into the forests of the northcountry? "A treeplanter can live comfortably, even in Hell," says a character in one of Denner's poems.

For a poet-visionary, knowledge is self-knowledge, and to gain self-knowledge is to enter the mind of God. Man needs meaning. Perhaps, this is what distinguishes a human from a beast. To cross over the border between the human to the divine is to forsake all hope, and yet, without faith, nothing can be accomplished. However, if Faith be fickle, Denner is willing to make a pact with the Devil.


beastie in the bunghole
bugaboo of bugaboos
mite in the middle of the third root race
big eight of the cycle of life

maggot of the mind's eye
mistake, abortion, infection, crablouse
error of the raised eyebrow

O deadly persuader
O propagator of corruption
O comic of crimes not yet committed
O gutless guttersnipe
O diddler at the door of destruction

let me fall with you into generation

This is poetry of experience. Denner doesn't just diddle at the door of destruction, he barges right through. And he knows the Underworld. He spent time in jail cells and under observation on mental wards. He fought battles for the Free Speech Movement and the Vietnam Day Committee. And he always works hard, goes at it like he's killing snakes. He's been a cannery worker, a cowhand, a logger and a treeplanter; he's changed diapers in convalescent homes and dug test holes on the trans-Alaskan pipeline. He's also been a news reporter, a bookseller, and a publisher. But for Denner, the quest is to go beyond the task at hand and see beyond the language of a given job into the deeper order of the Universe.

In Jack Spicer's writing of serial poetry into small books, Denner saw the foundation for an epic approach to the poem—the poem as a poetics, a poetics for a life, and, to follow a metaphor used by Freemasons, a life as a cathedral not made by human hands. "Denner has always belonged to the alternative party, its Masonic-anarchist branch," states Mark Halperin.

Lee Harris describes Denner's books in his essay, "D Press: Jewel in the Net":—

The first D Press chapbooks were simple affairs, printed from a Kelsey movable type handpress and 60 point Boldini Bold, all acquired for fifty bucks. The pages were hand cut, hung to dry in Richard's attic flat and hand bound, yet showed brilliant illustrations (Aztec Design by Grant Risdon). Good paper, fine cover art with linoleum block prints to accentuate the poems, a balance of art and word, these Dennerisms would become D Press trademarks.

And now some eighty of the books have been collected into eight volumes in a non-traditional format, a collected book format, which is a take off of the Black Sparrow edition of The Collected Books of Jack Spicer. In Denner's collections, the format is the same as his individual books with the colored covers and artwork being reproduced, along with his maintaining, as much as possible, the original typefaces. The collected book design and the title pages are homage to Jack and, further, pay obeisance to the history of printing. Woodblock, linoleum cut, etching & engraving, letterpress, mimeograph, offset and computer are all a part of the Denner process.

This is a mark of Denner's originality. He has produced not only an impressive body of poetry along with incredibly diverse compilations of these poems, but he has also created a postmodern form of writing by merging form and content and writing right into the book. Like William Blake, he is a printer-poet.

For the most part, The Collected Books of Richard Denner are organized in the order they were published. The arc springs from the Berkeley street poems of the early 60s, across the poems of nature and the language poetry of the 70s, peaking with the love lyrics of the 80s and the metaphysical dabbles of the 90s, and arriving at the poems of personae and what Denner calls his cyberstupa of today. Denner is not only a prolific poet of print; he maintains a powerful presence online. I give you Richard Denner.