Soul Of A Poet

Ad man Tim Denny finds beauty in unexpected places.

Written by Cindy Riley   Photography by Beau Gustafson

Ad Man Tim Denny

Beneath a bruised sky, two silhouettes huddled at the grave site of author William S. Burroughs. Drenched by a pouring rain, they’d come to pay their final respects.

“I simply thanked him for what he’d done for me,” explains Tim Denny, who in 1997 made the trip to St. Louis’ Bellefontaine Cemetery with a fellow Burroughs devotee after learning of the iconic writer’s death. “My friend and I stood in the rain maybe three minutes, then it was time to leave and make the drive home from Missouri. There was nothing left to say.”
Denny, co-founder of the Birmingham ad agency DavisDenny, is profoundly influenced by the Beats, able to discuss classics like Junkie and Naked Lunch in sublime detail. He has assembled a collection of first-edition Beat Generation photographs that are displayed on his office wall—a source of inspiration for the 54-year-old artist, writer and photographer.
“I think about how maybe there can be a 21st-century American Renaissance, where people can write and make art in the same way Burroughs and Kerouac did,” Denny says. “I have to believe there’s someone out there who can do that.”
Denny, who grew up in small-town Sycamore, Ala. just outside Sylacauga, majored in creative writing in college after discovering a talent for storytelling in high school. He’s put pen to paper ever since, although fully aware of his limited audience.

“No one reads poetry. They never did, except for maybe back in the 18th-century,” Denny quips. “But I like the images that are put together with the words, and that’s why I’m compelled to write it.”

Although hardly one to indulge in soporific coffee shop readings, Denny is willing to expose his work. Excerpts demonstrate his passion for writing.

Time wheels up its wobbly ellipse,

Spinning over cobble and brick,

Toward prickly histories,

And song-stirred glimpses.

With clear eyes and a forester’s breathing,

You can smell the road,

Fresh packed and rolled….

“Tim’s poems are visceral, with profound authenticity, rooted in place, time, family and home,” says wife Becky, an accomplished fine artist. “But photography is the visual medium that really brings his art full circle. He’s drawn to ruins. Industrial, suburban, urban, rural. His images are frequently abstract, always beautiful. He has an uncanny ability to see what others miss. “

Influenced by famed photographer William Eggleston, Denny has been capturing color digital images over the last decade. “I shoot common, everyday BS from around my neighborhood and downtown and I only take one shot,” he says. “Something ordinary becomes so much more when you look at it through the lens. It’s becomes graphic and deep.”

DavisDenny partner Ben Burford describes his friend as intelligent, bombastic and, at times, as forceful as a bull in a china shop. “He’s also extremely kindhearted, and is a fabulous painter,” Burford says. “He knows more about color than anyone I’ve ever met, and is so far ahead of everyone else as far as design. But he’s foremost a writer. His poetry offers an acerbic look at the South. It’s bitingly funny and sometimes poignant and even sad. Tim has a very melancholy side. He’s as layered as a Mark Rothko canvas.”

A longtime fan of the doomed abstract expressionist, Denny once traveled to New York to view a Rothko retrospective at the Whitney Museum. The experience was overwhelming.
“It’s the only truly emotional response I’ve ever had to a painting, Denny says. “Rothko once said the best way to view his work was to stand very close, so I got about eight inches from one of his pieces, which was huge, and the damn thing swallowed me. He knew exactly when to pick the brush up, never under or over painting. I was amazed.”
Equally intrigued by physician novelist Walker Percy, Denny  had the chance to meet the Birmingham native during a trip to New Orleans. “A friend of mine said he might have an ‘in’ with Percy, because he knew his proctologist. I didn’t expect anything to come of it, but I was invited to lunch the following Monday. I sat next to Dr. Percy and was nervous, but he couldn’t have been more generous with his time. I told him I appreciated what he had done for me through his writing,” says Denny, who began his career in Manhattan 30 years ago as a promotion and distribution analyst for Esquire magazine.

“Talk about a cool job right out of college,” Denny recalls.  “I was basically trying to get the magazine moved from the back of the racks to the front. I got to travel to places up and down the East Coast. I was hired along with a bunch of other people my age. We even had an apartment on Park Avenue.”

From there, Denny returned to Alabama where he worked at various ad agencies in Birmingham and Montgomery. When his employer decided to move in a different direction, Denny phoned David Davis, his colleague and Kappa Alpha fraternity brother at the University of Alabama.

“We decided to leave the agency and form DavisDenny in 1989. Our first office was located in David’s brother’s guesthouse. We had a phone with a long cord and a hold button,” Denny says, laughing. “It was fun and exciting, and we got some good clients after a short period of time. Things just sort of took off from there.”

While cryptic about future goals, Denny is extremely forthcoming when it comes to his ultimate destination. “At my funeral, I want Arabian women who will be paid $20 each to make that certain noise and march with their heads in their hands,” Denny says. “My photo in the newspaper will feature me in a sailor cap with an American flag in the background. I mean, who’s going to check it out? Trust me, they’ll run it.  And I’ve already written the obit. ‘Denny, Timothy Neal is dead. For more information, go to

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