There is a quote on the back of this collection that says "Denehan is sort of like Bukowski, if Bukowski wrote while drinking rather than drunk." (from Chris Margolin, editor of The Poetry Question). It's a long time since I've read any Bukowski, but it's a comparison that I think does Denehan a disservice. He writes like somebody I would like to have a drink with, or a cup of tea, or a chat generally. Bukowski for all his talent has never struck me as someone I'd want to find myself in the same room as.
This is the second Denehan collection I've read - the first was Miles of Sky Above Us, Miles of Earth Below which I loved. This collection is darker in every sense (cover included), and so is my own mood these days. A lot has changed in the year between these two books; Covid creeps in here, which I found unexpectedly hard to read about outside of a news context. These poems highlighted for me how many months this virus has been around, and underlined the way that changes to the way we live and interact are beginning to feel increasingly permanent.
The poem that I keep coming back to here is 'No'. It's one that I wish would be taught in schools. It takes far to long for most of us to understand the pleasure, power, and usefulness of the word No, and I like the way this poem puts the word love in it's place too. This is one to copy down and keep handy for all the many times I need reminding that no is not only an option, but a good idea. This is where I do agree with Chris Margolin - Denehan's work is "...proof that poetry doesn't need to be complicated to tell a damn good story."
It's a pleasure to read a body of work that is so generally accessible. The poems here are heartfelt, clever, playful, surprising, and sometimes heartbreaking - 'Geoff' is a perfect horror story in verse about the clipboard wielding charity collectors that turn city centre streets into gauntlets to be run with a beautifully unexpected ending (which maybe does have a little Bukowski about it?). 'Margaret' came under the heartbreaking category for it's mix of tragedy, love and hope.
There's also quite a bit here about difficult relationships with fathers, and the loss that comes with ageing - poems that have a different resonance now I'm in my 40's than the would have had even a decade ago. There are stabs of recognition now, not just from my own experience, but from the wider experiences of friends as we all try to puzzle out the realities of middle age.
I really do recommend Steve as a poet to read and follow. It's been both a pleasure and a privilege to be part of this tour. You can find his books from all the normal sources, and also follow him on twitter for more poetry updates.