Exploding Flowers

Edited by Belle Randall & Richard Denner
148 pages, 2004

Richard Denner

I will say what I have said before. Luis Garcia has been my greatest mentor, always present with insights and humorous twists of perspective. Meeting Lu right after the Berkeley Poetry Conference, in 1965, we both felt we had just experienced two weeks of white light intensity, and we wanted to maintain the euphoria induced by the poetry of Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Spicer and others.

Lu’s style of writing is unique. His playing with the sound of words and his discovery of words inside of words inspired me to re-evaluate my assumptions about what defines a poem and, then, how to write one. I remember him encouraging me to read Gertrude Stein and Federico Garcia Lorca. He helped me understand that it was important to discover my own voice, to forge a blade, as he put it. Here is “Worship”:

              wordship —

              one ship follows another;
              one word follows another;
              one war follows another;
              one wave follows another —

              one ship, one word,
              one war, one wave
              upon a rain-beaten sea,

              my rusted knees,
              my loose cannons
              hidden among the screaming trees,

              my invisible shadow,
              my loose ends
              wanting to be tied up
              (again and again) —

              this light, he said,
              is more than light
              dreaming as it does.

Lu taught me to dream with words, but his influence was also concrete. He gave me a used thesis binder with a spring spine and told me to get my shit together. I began to organize my poetry into books, and this has been a seminal part of my oeuvre for the past forty years. He instilled confidence in me, and I began to write in earnest by improvisational composing, blowing with words, in Berkeley in the 60s, in an acid-induced psychosis. I began by imitating Lu because his poems sizzle. “They move so fast, if you aren’t ready, you miss them,” Richard Silberg said. And I liked that the poems were like that.

By imitating Lu’s use of jazz rhythms and breath notation, I began to read my poems aloud. At first, he and I were street poets, cornering innocent bystanders, and then later we were invited to read in bookstores and art galleries. I learned my craft much as Leadbelly learned his by putting his spine against the piano. In my case, I associated 24/7 with a true wordsmith.

Lu is loyal to his friends, considers friendship the greatest art. I may be jumping to conclusions, but I think Belle and I are referred to in the following poem, “Pitch”:

              in sunlight—

              across a plate.
              Dinner is waiting.

              are lifting

              Bells, yes
              bells are ringing
              in bars.

              also seem
              to be ringing.
              Rusted wedding rings
              are ringing too.
              And a heap of hands
              have just rung themselves.

              As they
              call down
              to us

              they realize
              quite suddenly

              all lines
              are busy.

As this poem is in a book entitled Poems for Dinner, which is dedicated to me, I think I am correct in assuming this “Dinner” who is waiting is me, and that the “they” is Belle and myself, since I know Lu and Belle spend long hours on the phone, although it has been awhile since they spent much time in bars. In another book, A Gift from the Darkness, in a poem “Ready”:

              Denner is ready.
              Another friend of mine
              is also ready
              to go out
              for breakfast.

Further in the poem, a “cup is breaking” and a “car is going fast,” and I can remember the exact events, just as I can remember being with Lu, walking up Telegraph Avenue, as he extemporaneously composed “Hot House” while eyeballing a lovely lady:

              swinging behind
              her swinging behind

              is swinging behind her
              like a lantern
                            her swinging behind.

or being in the old U.C. Berkeley Art Gallery and looking at a collage that contained a map of the Near East, which then became an element in “Old Games”:

              You must not forget to play
              from time to time
              old games with new things.

              Have you used delta as a password,
              peninsula, island, Arabia, Red Sea, Persian Gulf?

              Now that your world map is started,
              the game of guide may be changed a little
              and may be called host.

              Children and guests
              who come to your room might like to know
              why the earth seems flat.

              Notice the lines,
              all the lines are exactly the same length;
              they form eventually a circle.

              But since you see
              only a small part of this circle,
              the lines seem almost straight.

              Do you see why,
              why these gardens are along the river
              and not in other places?

              If the guide cannot answer
              your question, one of you who knows
              may take his place.

In 1965, I felt the challenge, and now, forty years later, this prophetic poem still brims with wisdom. It seems to me that Luis Garcia embodies a contradictory mode of childish-worldishness, which he at times expresses in a kindly, albeit aloof, manner and at other times with a black, surreal humor, which is a mix of sarcasm, paranoia and biting satire. It is this type of humor that unites Belle, Lu, and I. We receive gifts from the darkness. The three of us find that words are the only light which light our way.