Henry Denander: The Rusty Truck Interview
Scot: As a child in Sweden, what did you want to grow up to be?
Henry: My mother used to tell us that I once said I wanted to be a priest, but I think she made that up. I come from a working class family in Eskilstuna, my older brother was a pilot in the air force and he was my role model when I was a teenager but I never had any real thoughts or plans on what to do when I grew up. I tried many different jobs while at school and University and found I had an administrative talent.
Scot: What makes Henry Denander feel good?
Henry: At one time I used to write a poem almost every day and of course a day with a new poem on paper made me feel really good. But I don’t write much poetry these days and a really good day is spent on a September day on Hydra Island in Greece with my family, writing some letters in the morning, breakfast with figs from the garden, reading Murakami, siesta below the orange tree, painting some water colors or drawing with ink in the afternoon, a swim from the cliffs when the sun is cooler and then some Kalamari at Dimitri’s tavern at night.
Scot: Blues, donkeys, jazz, and cats are common threads in your art and poetry. Do you have a subject that you go back to just because you love it?
Henry: Since my poetry is narrative and usually based on memories, I had stories I wanted to tell. And my music interest has always been really strong. I remember when I got a job with a Swedish record company the only thing my friends said was that this suited me very well with my interests.
I was a financial controller, a bean counter still, and at times a very demanding job but in a way they were right. Since I started to write poetry I always carried a notebook to jot down ideas. But maybe one day I ran out of stories to tell? I wish I had been writing more when I was traveling all over the world in the 70’s and 80’s. Although recently I found a couple of diaries from that time, I am working on them now. Maybe there are some poems there.
Scot: You live in Stockholm and spend a lot of time on Hydra, do you write poetry in languages other than English?
Henry: No, I must say that I never wrote poetry in Swedish, it sounds strange and some people in Sweden have wondered why I write in English. It was
more of a coincidence but I had been reading American poetry and prose since the 70’s. And when I started with Bukowski’s poetry I was hooked.
Here was a way of telling stories that I really liked. Then I found Gerald Locklin’s poetry and read almost everything there as well. That got me started, I wrote some prose poems in that tradition and after I got the first ones published in Chiron Review (where Locklin was one of the editors!) my self confidence rose and poems started to pour out.
Scot: What do you collect?
Henry: Oh, I’ve collected many things over the years. I still have a large collection of old wrist watches, bought while travelling to the antique markets in London but also in Singapore and Penang in Asia. My teenage son is now interested and is wearing some of the nice ones from the 50’s.
I have a large collection of signed and rare books. I would say I have almost every Bukowski book in 1st edition, most of them signed, some even with artwork. Also many Bukowski association copies, like Liza William’s copy of Burning In Water with her handwritten notes, Ben Pleasants copy of Post Office with Buk’s inscription, books inscribed to some of Buk’s notorious neighbors on Carlton Way etc etc. I have many small press titles, many signed 1st editions, almost all Gerald Locklin titles, also almost everything by Tom Kryss, Dan Fante, Steve Richmond, Annie Menebroker, Irving Stettner, a rare signed D.A. Levy title etc etc. When I was younger (and actually even recently) I collected autographs and signed photos, I have some really classic ones. Of course, my family wonders sometimes about all my files and boxes with “memorabilia”. I think I even have a poem about that.
They renovated the old
bar where I spent a lot of
my free time from the mid
80’s to the mid 90’s.
They chopped up the
wooden bar into small
pieces and framed them
together with a photo of
This added one more
thing to my large
collection of interesting
stuff, like the program
from Buk’s favorite race
track, the dried flower
from Leonard Cohen’s
garden, the signed photo
of Russ Meyer holding a
bra stuffed with melons
and for every new esoteric
thing I frame and hang on
the wall there is always an
unanswered question from
my wife hanging in the
“What are you going to
do with all these things?”
Scot: Alive or passed on, who would you like to sit down with for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine?
Henry: Henry Miller I would ask him about that tavern that he describes in The Colossus of Maroussi and talk about Ghikas the painter whom Miller visited on Hydra in 1939. I’m a bit obsessed with that story and the ruins of Ghikas old mansion that is not far from our house on Hydra.
Scot: Tell me about the process of your watercolors? Your poem How To Draw like Picasso is a favorite.
How to draw like Picasso
In my spare time I have been trying to
draw portraits, from photos of jazz
musicians and writers.
After many failures I found that my
talent in drawing was knowing when to
stop; I left all the complicated things
out of my drawings.
Picasso said that after learning to draw
professionally he spent a lifetime trying
to draw like a child.
I took a shortcut and went straight to
the children’s style, without passing
through art school.
Henry: Although laced with a touch of humor, that process is still valid for me. I never had a proper education in painting or drawing. It has more been more been trial and error and lately some hints on materials and technique from an artist friend in Greece. I work with heavy, good quality French paper, as heavy as possible. Good quality French watercolors as well. I have found a way of wetting the papers and waiting for the right wetness/moment to start, either with the ink (which I apply with a bamboo stick) or paint. Sometimes the ink will dry in the sun and then I re-wet the paper to proceed with the paint. I have also used a lot of water color pens, on top of the still wet paint. And, as I said in that poem – stop before it’s overworked. I have never aimed for likeness or photo quality – I hope that is noticed.
That How to draw like Picasso poem was one of my first. One of my latest poems is about seeing Picasso on Hydra. His son, actually, but still.
Henry: I actually started with mail art already in 1984, I recently found some letters and envelopes from that time. I even made my own artist stamps then, not with computer skills but watercolor and scissors. After a long break I started again a couple of years ago, the internet is actually fantastic for mail art with all the bloggers and even on Facebook there is inspirational input. Of course I always liked to receive snail mail and with email taking over, the mailart is a fantastic way to keep in contact. So I am doing rubber stamps, artist stamps and even small artist books that I send out. It’s good therapy for your soul.
Scot: Poet, watercolor artist, creator of mail art, publisher at Kamini Press—what artistic pursuit did I leave out—blues slide guitar maybe?
Henry: Haha! Well…even if I have played a fingerpicking guitar for 45 years I will never be a real musician. But I am glad to see my son using my guitars now and we have even played together, although he thinks my old blues licks are just horrible and it sounds like “old man’s music”…Being good at many things is maybe spreading it thin but as long as I am not living on any of these skills, I may be allowed to keep up.
Scot: I read you began with the beat poets, who are your poetry heroes?
Henry: I began with Bukowski, he opened up the poetry thing for me. I loved his prose also, almost all of it, except Pulp maybe, but the poetry was something special. I remembered in the mid 80’s I translated a lot of his poems, sent them to the Swedish publisher who published the prose in Swedish. They liked them but they suspected that the ordinary translator would do the poems as well – and later he did.
I have never tried to write like Bukowski. I have written about family and music and work and travels, it was just so refreshing that you could write about almost anything and find your own poem – as long as it has some rhythm and soul.
Scot: Who has had the greatest influence on your art and writing?
Henry: Bukowski as a poet.
Gerry Locklin as a poet and a friend and inspiration he guided me to the small press magazines, he has been very supportive, and a true mentor.
Sam Charters, one of my best friends, my editor and inspiration who read all my poetry before it’s shown to the world. Sam has been very supportive and vital for both my writing and my art. There are so many painters I admire but maybe Henry Miller showed me the Greek colors.
Scot: It may sound silly but are you more artistic in Sweden or in Greece? It seems your artwork is inspired from Hydra.
Henry: Yeah, mainly because I have been free when I’ve been there, on holiday or some other sort of vacation. To paint and draw you need to keep it up, do something every day and get into it. In Greece I usually have a large table with all my painting gear out – it’s easy to get going.
Scot: Of the 300 poems you have had published, is there one that sticks out more than the rest? Same question with your poetry books?
Henry: Weeks Like This is probably the book that stands out, my first full-length book. For me some stories are more important than other, maybe for the reader it’s not the same, they are just another poem. There are some of those that take me back, like that early morning in Tolo on the Greek mainland.
7 AM at the Zeus hotel
Because of a long swim in the sun yesterday and
a three-hour long siesta in the afternoon, I wake up
before 7 AM this morning.
I sneak out of the room and take a table at the front
of the hotel, overlooking the beach. No one else is
around, no guests, only Paris Theodorakidis and
his dog Astero.
Paris gets me a cup of coffee and Astero leans her
head on my leg. The small city of Tolo starts to
wake up, there are deliveries of Loutraki water,
fish, fruit and vegetables. Some early swimmers
are heading down to the beach.
After a while Paris gives me an omelet and some
I have my notebook and the book on Mycenae, I
drink coffee, pat the dog and write some stuff in
Stuff like this.
Henry: Maybe “The salmon in the sky and…” is the poem I’ve had most feedback on.
The salmon in the sky and how everything just stopped
No one died but a few people were injured and it was
a miracle that it didn’t end in a disaster since Stockholm was
filled with hundreds of thousands of people. It was
The Water Festival and there were crowds of people
everywhere; on bridges, on the islands and
all over the city.
Strangely enough, someone‘s brainless idea of showing the
newest Swedish fighter jet and flying it over Stockholm had
somehow been approved.
I stayed at home since I hated the crowds but when I heard
the loud noise from the plane’s engine I walked out on the
balcony and saw a very impressive JAS 32 fly over
Then when the plane disappeared over the roofs of the
houses on the other side of the street suddenly
everything turned quiet. When I looked up I glimpsed
the plane turning up towards the sky and after the
engine stopped everything was so quiet, as though
the whole city had just stopped and everyone was waiting
for the plane to crash.
It was more than ten years ago and the feeling of someone
just turning off the sound of the city,
and the plane in the sky,
like a small salmon in a rushing water, showing it’s belly
and struggling in the sun,
that’s what I remember.
More Poetry of Henry Denander
on the chess board
he was the lawyer for the american record company that
came from california to sweden to negotiate,
we were an independent swedish record company
the meetings went on for a week and every morning the lawyer
brought his attaché case, inside only his yellow legal pad and a huge
packet of juicy fruit gum
his english was broad and he was chewing his gum all day,
for me he was a real american music business lawyer, old school,
only the cowboy hat was missing
he was a nice guy and very charismatic and twenty five years later
when i saw his face on the tv screen, i instantly recognized him
it was a documentary on the chess champion bobby fischer,
the famous chess player who was a very complicated and
my lawyer friend looked very serious, dressed in a suit and
now he wasn’t chewing his gum any more
it must have been hard to represent bobby fischer, who was
a chess genius but also a racist, a religious fanatic and
maybe the lawyer had taken on more than he could chew