by Richard Denner
There's an angel in the park chasing leaves. Another angel on the corner,
talking on the phone. An angel making a copy of an article from the New
Yorker turns and speaks to me. "What is that you have? It's
"It's the cover for a chapbook of my poems, Talking Trash."
"Can I get on your mailing list or something?"
"Well, I guess you can be a part of my small audience."
"I'm a writer, too. I've been working on a novel, but I don't have a
publisher. I don't know what I’m going to do."
She has auburn hair, features I like, a delicate face, a bright expression
to the eyes, not wearing a wedding ring, casual clothes, a sweater with a
heavy knit yet revealing the contour of her breasts, loose fitting trousers,
sensible shoes. Venus rising from the sea foam in her invisible clothes.
"I'm surfacing," she says.
"I can see that," I say.
I'm trying to make my best impression. I know I'm liable to download too
much, so I try to pace myself, yet she is excited and finds space in my
sentences to interject herself and express her view.
"What do you do with your books? Sell them?"
"I sell some, when I give a reading. Give them to friends, trade other
poets for books of theirs. Mostly, it's a way to finish my poems, to get
them out there, so they're not stuck in a drawer in my desk or in a box in
the attic, to complete the circle, and at the same time it forces me to edit
and make the poems stand up on their own, so when I stand up to read them, I
stand by them with conviction."
"There are readings at Lucy's every third Sunday at 3 p.m."
"What's that? Where is it?"
"It's the café next to the theater down the street."
"Have you read there before?"
"No, I've never read before strangers before. Among friends. In the
classroom. I read one time in a class at San Francisco State, a long time
ago, and I must have said something to remind some of them of having been in
the insane asylum, and they came completely unglued. I don't know what I
did. I must've hit a chord of some kind."
"That's kind of the idea. To touch the audience out there."
"I know, but I wasn't expecting that kind of reaction."
"Like reading the Bible in jail and commanding the inmates to repent,
and they start banging on the bars with their cups."
"Or your own version of the fear. I'm afraid of getting caged in."
I've been waiting for her to give me a phrase to prompt me to write an
inscription in her copy of my book. I say, "Let me write something for
you here. What's your name?"
"The Mysterious Woman. Some call me Muse."
So, I write, "Oh Muse, not to be caged in/except by friendship."
She writes; I write; everything is written in our eyes. Dialogue developing;
cut to the chase. Nectar starts to drip; time expands; space swirls and
opens. We're waving our arms, talking a mile a minute. We're drawing
attention to ourselves in the copy shop by our antics.
"So, what did you read in your class?"
"I can't remember, something political. Sexual politics. Today, it
wouldn't matter. You could sleep with an elephant and no one would say
anything. But then..."
"It's the fear of rejection. It takes a pro to feel safe in their skin,
naked, before an audience. I watched Laurence Olivier in The Entertainer
last night. Powerful. At the end, there is a scene where he is with his
daughter looking out at an empty theater, and he speaks about his life on
the stage. I mean, Olivier is one of the greatest, and he's playing this
tatty, old musical actor to perfection, and he remembers an important event
in his life, a moment which makes him feel that if there ever was a moment
where he had a belief in the strength of the human race, it was hearing by
chance an old negress sing her heart out about Jesus- 'just making a pure, a
natural noise'- that he would have been alright as a person if he could just
once have 'lifted his bosom and made such a fuss.' He's definitely down on
himself and is trying to live up to a life of failed hopes and faded dreams.
He says, 'When you're up here (meaning the stage), you think you love all
those people out there, but you don't.' He says his 'face can split open'
and he can pretend to be human, sing and tell stories, but that it doesn't
matter, behind his eyes he's as dead as the 'shoddy lot out there.' This is
kind of nihilistic, and I'm kind of getting off track. I guess what I'm
trying to say is that poetry is more than entertainment, and you can't just
rely on technique to keep down the fear and trembling. A drama coach told me
to turn the nervousness into excitement. Infect the audience with
anticipation that something grand is about to happen rather than
transmitting your fear that the experience will be dreadful If they perceive
you as nervous, they feel it too. If they feel you're confident, then that's
what they feel. Beyond this, there's only the raw exposure of your
"I know...I look up there, and I'm glad I'm not in his shoes."
"What size shoe do you wear?" I put my foot next to hers. We do a
funny little side step and giggle. This is getting intense.
"This is getting intense," I say.
"This IS getting intense," she replies.
"Maybe, we should get back to work here."
"Maybe, you're right. Can we exchange cards?"
"We could if I had one. Let me put my number in my book, here. Maybe we
can get together, and I could read some of what you've written. Do you
"I've only recently moved here from the Sonoma area. I work at my art.
I'm an artist also. Here is my card, and it has my number on it. Where do
"At present, I'm taking care of my elderly father, and I've been
writing about it, kind of a post-modern, de-constructivist novel I call The
Episodes. We could read some of our stuff to each other. Mine began as a
means of processing my relationship with my father...generation gap...you
know, the ties that bind, what's beyond all the political and intellectual
differences, what brings me home, but then it began to be a retelling of my
story and moved beyond the original intent and local scene, and now it cuts
across time and place, zagging more than zigging."
"Mine's like that too, no plot or characters exactly. I don't know what
it is, but I'd like your opinion, I think."
"Well, it would be nice to get to know you. It helps to have other
artists to share your work with because they get to know your whole cluster
of work. A dialogue develops, and constructive criticism can occur since
they are not making snap judgments on a one time basis. They know where you
are and where you want to go and how to tell when you're making a
breakthrough or fail."
"Yes, you're right there. Not like seeing something out of
"I've been reading Emily Dickinson lately. She stayed in the house and
wrote her verse. She sent a few poems to a guy named Higgenson and asked him
if he thought her poems 'breathed,' and he replied, 'spasmodically.' She's
exceptional. Outside of those few poems, she didn't publish. Amazing. She
had absolute confidence...she believes, 'A Word that breathes distinctly/
Has not the power to die.' Absolutely beatific."
"Let's get to work."
About Richard Denner
Tree planter, publisher of dPress
chapbooks, longtime owner and operator of Fourwinds Bookstore & Cafe,
dharma student, and presently and presently a California-poet-in-the-schools.
Further information and poetry can be found at: www.sonic.net/~rychard/