Arts and Culture

Denver’s Poetry Community Remembers Founding Father Lenny Chernila

If a single soul bridged the transition of Denver’s spoken-word poetry scene from its Beat roots to the thriving slam arena of the present, it was Lenny Chernila, the “Professor,” whose presence over the years as both a participant and mentor at readings at the Mercury Cafe and other spots resonated with contemporaries and young poets alike.

“He was the first to talk to you, me, everyone,” says Ken Arkind, poet and mentor for Denver’s Minor Disturbance youth slam poetry group. “When you were a scared kid walking into the room and knew no one, he made you feel comfortable. He wrote a poem about me and all the traveling I did as a kid. That was when I was eighteen. Because I looked up to him, it made me feel like a hero and that I could do anything. He made a lot of people feel that way.”

Chernila, an earthy and gutsy free spirit of a poet, passed away quietly over the weekend. The news spread quickly through the close-knit community; here are some of of the tributes that bloomed on Facebook in its wake.

Ken Arkind:

"Only a world all joke laugh lovely will do." — The professor, Lenny C. #thankyou

Piper Rose:
In memory of the bold and radical Lenny: “When you rock nothing can stop you, when you suck nothing can save you." Rest and travel in peace, Lenny. You always had words of encouragement for me and showed us all the cool of artistic rebellion.

Andy O’Leary:
Time is not holding still
It chases us down
It takes us across the imaginary rivers
Sometimes you pissed me off
Sometimes I pissed you off
Sometimes we just drank in the poetry
Like winos
Sometimes the rocks bruised us
Like bad days of hard rain
Sometimes the spoken words
Lifted everyone up like children in summer
And sometimes there are tears that sneak up on you like
someone who can't sing.
I’ll remember the lilac storms
I’ll remember you spitting the words
And I’ll remember your name
And I’ll know that it’s you
Walking into the invisible light.

For Lennie C.

Roseanna Frechette:
I am crushed to think of never having another heart to heart with Lenny Chernila. He was indeed a kind and wise poetic prophet for everyman. Also a dear family man to his awesome offspring and a sure sweetheart of a guy. I love(d) him with all my heart and soul and will continue to hear him, from the many conversations we shared, at all times of day and night, all through the years of mutual respect and love. I know Lenny rests in peace because that's who he is, and I will continue to talk to him even as I know I will miss the heck out of him..."to be contd" we would often end our conversations and so it is — to be contd.

Chris Bullock

From one New York Expat in Denver, to another. Denver is raining because Lenny C has moved on. Or maybe it's the other way around. Or maybe he understood how hard it is to live in Denver as a poet these days and has found a better scene. Either way he has stepped into the red curtain one last time, community bookshelf books in hand, waiting to take the big podium in the sky. After a few false alarms, the Host has just called his name. Sad he has left us to go on tour but I understand the afterlife has been waiting to hear him for a while, and most of the Invisible World has yet to be gentrified, and the rent is fucking cheap there. Maybe he can light a fire under God's ass to get Him to pay more attention to what's going on here. Real New Yorkers are mischievious, irreverent and revolutionary like that. I am sad but I am also a big baby. Thanks Lenny for the encouragement. Stoner women of Denver, you are not alone. Hardcore, visionary or erotic…. I will take whatever I can, though I will leave the lesbian challenge to those who have been training. The old Beatniks of Denver are leaving, name by name, as angels cross names off the Open Mic list. I can't complain about stepping out into the rain when others have taken that step into the unknown.

Kris Hipps, Paper Cat Films:
Lenny was one of the good ones — an extraordinary artist, poet, and humanitarian. He will be missed more than I can say, but I am comforted by the fact that I was able to spend so much time with this unique and talented human being, and that thru my documentary I will keep a little piece of Lenny's amazing spirit alive to share with the world. Rest with the Angels Lenny.

Bianca Mikahn

Thousands of Lenny C's powerful and unparalleled words floating in my head. From the first moment I stepped into the art world, the Professor was present with open arms, infinite love, knowledge and acceptance offered to anyone hungry for passionate truth. Things will never be the same...but thanks to his tireless work, the words will continue to leave improvement and inspiration in their wake. All blessings to your family, Jessica Chernila, Zion Chernila, little Isis and those I've not yet been fortunate enough to meet.
Rest in the same Power in which you Lived
Dear Professor...Lenny C

LadySpeech Sankofa

There are no words…
I love you Lenny C.
Thank you for all you did with your life.
Thanks you for being in mine.
Denver, Colorado, this world will never be the same without you.
I will miss you my friend.
May the ancestors welcome you home with great joy and infinite love.
I honor your life. I honor your death.
May God be with us all.
I love you Lenny…always.

Suzi Q. Smith
Sometimes I hate Facebook — it's such a horrible way to learn that someone has left this life. Sometimes I love Facebook, because it gives us all the opportunity to share our love and grief with one another.

All of that being said, my love to the family of Lenny Chernila. His life, his work, his encouragement, had an impact on nearly every poet in Denver for decades. Our city weeps. He will be terribly missed.

Thank you for all that you gave us, Lenny. We will do our best to carry your legacy forward, to continue teaching and encouraging the generations coming along.

Art From Ashes
Rest In Peace, old friend. Lenny Chernila was a wonderful poet, who supported my work with youth when I first started 25 years ago

Josh Chernila
I regret to announce the passing of my father, Denver's last true Beat poet, Lenny Chernila; apparently of natural causes, a peaceful passing for a great, peaceful man.
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message 'He is Dead'.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good. — WH Auden

Lenny C Rocks the Mic, a documentary about Chernila by Paper Cat Films, will be screened at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 6 at the Mercury Cafe. Come at 6 p.m. for poetry, music and tributes from family and friends. Visit the Mercury Cafe online or call 303-294-9258 for details.

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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.
Contact: Susan Froyd