If you’re unfamiliar with Carl Dennis’ poetry, a good introduction is his New and Selected Poems 1974-2004. The strength of his poetry is its accessibility. His lines don’t create mazes readers must waste their mental energy wending their way through in their hunt for meaning. Instead, his language opens door for readers into rooms in which Dennis has turned on the lights.
As an example, his poem, “Listeners,” is about traveling words. In particular, it’s about words of his that began their journey on a telephone life, overheard by a telephone operator “lonely among the night wires,” “night wires” a metaphor that deepens rather than obscures meaning. Further on, Dennis comments that such operators “all do it … breaking the rules.” (This is an activity born before the Internet when party lines still reigned.)
To Dennis, words, once said, can travel on unexpected paths, reaching ears for which they were never intended. Even whispers said to oneself — even thoughts — can enter what Dennis refers to as the “far world” where they can assume new forms, such as stone, losing not only their identify but also their ability to engage others.
While Dennis’ “stones” might not engage his poetic characters who encounter them, his words have the power to pull readers into a poetic world he makes “near.”