Book reviews

Denny Stern

Denny's Cover

Denny’s Cover

It is the middle of the night, but I’m awake and thinking about Denny Stern.  I’m a Denny Stern junkie and I need a fix.  I need to write.  Now.  (This is so totally not me.  I am not a burn the midnight oil type.  I’m a believer in sleep.  Rest.  That is what night is for.  But not this night.)

The room is too warm.  I’m sticky under the covers.  I need to create.  I need to channel my inner Denny Stern.  I need a poem.  But I can’t wake my bed partner so I’ve got to crawl out from the covers.

The oven digital clock reads 10:41 P.M.  Wait a gosh darn.  10:41, A.M. or P.M., does not constitute middle of the night.  Not even close.  Probably not even on the North Pole.  At least it’s dark outside.  Which means Denny hasn’t turned my world completely upside down.

A Stern demand is ordering me.  Create.  Must create.  Now.  Stern, whose poetry and word play and chuckling and laughing at words’ power to superimpose and impose themselves (like mischievous elves, Denny might say) has infected me.  With his lanky, shambling, poet-spirit gait.  With his freshness and that thing he does when he reads, rolling his head about just a little, periscoping out at his audience—hey, you guys, are you getting this? Are you with me? With his joshing and slightly self-deprecating marvelous word mixtures and admixtures that need to be carefully watched lest they effervesce out of the pot and float off to new lands in the hot air balloon they’ve built surreptitiously when we blinked.

His words have made good on their threat to carry me off.

At 10:41 on a Friday evening when all good consuming Americans have a good quarter hour at least to dope up on what they need to know to keep on being good consuming Americans.  Chomp chomp.

Only if they could all turn their stations to Denny.  They could start taking Denny’s dope.  Forget Comcast and O’Reilly and Vitamix and Viagra.  Get Denny.  Get Stern.  Try some dope that works.  Try this mind-expanding, mind-altering drug.  A trip you want to go on.  A trip you haven’t tried.

But warning: the Denny trip has side effects.  It will alter you.  You may find yourself awakening.  Needing to write.  You will find yourself thinking of that visit to the Library of Congress to hear poet/artist/children’s book maker Remi Charlip talk about his craft and creativity and how he “Used It To Change Children’s Lives.”  And how the children changed Remi.  You will think about Frances Hodgson Burnett, about whom you haven’t thought for decades, and her Secret Garden, a book about a lonely girl and the gardener’s son who awakened the girl to a garden’s power.  Even in winter, even covered in soggy brown leaves, the garden had the power to awaken brightness and curiosity.  Even its dormant shrubs had the power to take away sullenness and sallow complexions and replace them with hope and cheer.

Are words just or is Denny Stern just words?

Are words just or is Denny Stern just words?

I got no. 12 of 12.  Photocopied.  Stapled.  Put together the quaint, low-tech, 90’s way.  Every word inked by hand.  Everything was there: the carefully-formed upper case block letters, the seasoned artist’s loopy cursive, the line drawings that gave the poems an extra dimension, that made me laugh or gave me a new poem entry point.  Plus I even got the cross outs.

Earlier that afternoon, I sat in the black chair by the window, indulging.  The black chair and I were going places.  We were traveling with Denny.  We visited Arcturus and Denny’s great great great grandfather, kingpin of the cigar rollers and master soapbox orator.  “Listen.  I’m here, too,” Denny’s  great great said.  All this while the frozen Susquehanna shown bright in case some star needed a place to land.

I’m glad Denny’s book has no cover to protect it.  It’s vulnerable and open. “I’m here.  Read me,” it says.  There’s no covering sheet.  No veil.

“I’m a poem,” Denny’s book says.  “I’m comfortable with that.  I’m poetry.  That’s what I do.  Read me.”


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