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Building a Dream into a Poetry Collection by Damien B Donnelly

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Damien B Donnelly

Damien B Donnelly

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I climbed a sleeping volcano at 4am, on Jeju, in South Korea, in 2018, expecting to find a glorious sunrise but instead found my very first panic attack. I had climbed up, over and out of the darkness, expecting to find the birth of colour but faith is not always something within our hold, like photographs in dusty boxes or cinema stubs we’ve kept even when we’ve forgotten who we saw the film with- ‘faith is fragile, courage is not always conclusive, we don’t command the waves or comprehend the clouds.’

What is ours to control is how we deal with it, afterwards and what we learn from it, later. When putting together this poetry collection I wanted it to be a recognition of the fact that there is darkness, depression, pain and sometimes panic attacks but perhaps the best way to deal with them is to look for the light within them so that perhaps we can walk with both; finding a balance between the two instead of keeping them so far apart- ‘remember, black is only shadow.’ I guess for me the arc of this debut collection was to look at the darkness as if it was a blank canvas, black instead of white, and draw on that canvas my own colour of hope.

It begins with a mediation under a yellow sun, on a white sandy beach- ‘wanting to put onto paper the possibility of holding stillness while all else moved’ and from there it slowly its finds its flow as a mother’s voice tells us to ‘eat the storms… boil these bitter beds of blackness until the dream rips through the rain and translucent turns to trust.’

We the move into moments held, understandings realized after distance has been achieved, the importance of being honest with your own idea of creativity and identity in order to become extraordinary instead of being what was merely expected, accepting loss as a part of the route and not the end of the journey and it ends by catching the kisses and colour without a regard for how long they will last and the final words repeat the book’s theme– ‘Eat the storms, Mother said, Eat the storms.’

I left Ireland when I was 23, a graduate of The Grafton Academy of Fashion Design and headed to Paris, thinking I’d become the next big fashion designer until I realized I had never studied a word of French in my life and took a job at an Irish bar. After Paris, I moved to London and into the world of fashion which later took me to Amsterdam and eventually, at 40, back to Paris where I got to close that chapter of my life. In the last few months of living with Paris, I won the White Label 1st Pamphlet poetry collection competition held by The Hedgehog Poetry Press and when I moved back to Ireland in Dec 2019 I focused most of my attention to writing. During lockdown I won the Creative Writing Competition held by Holding It Together, Apart run by The Dublin City Council who later turned my winning poem ‘Funny, The Oddity of the Odyssey’ into a You Tube Video narrated by Anne Doyle. Last week Eat the Storms had its launch and a childhood dream of having a collection together came to life.

This collection would have been impossible had it not been for the journeys that I have made- ‘I remembered the highway that hurried us out of the city as I wondered if I’d packed enough hope for us both,’ the connections that have bettered me- ‘lines of letters to brothers who knew us to be better than the light sometimes allowed,’ the falls that I’ve had to climb back up and out of- ‘I never knew how far I could bend until I would break,’ and for the time it took me to realize that we cannot hold everything forever- I hear you calling in shades of blue, from the extremities of a distance my arm’s reach can never cover,’ but we can love everything that we hold when we have it- ‘hold hope and then move on, we only hold the moment.’

Midway through this collection, in the poem Golden Haze, where the morning comes on slow and ‘casts shadows on a single form in this too big room with no door large enough to climb through’ I recall the dreams I shared with a friend, years earlier, went we sat in a car under the lamplight as the stars switched on above and we wondered where life would take us. That friend has now taken to the dust; a star shining above, while I continue along this road, trying to Eat the Storms instead of running away from them and I am indebted to Mark Davidson, the creator of The Hedgehog Poetry Press, for allowing me to bring this dream to life.

Three weeks ago, I began the podcast Eat the Storms, on Spotify, Anchor, Google and most other podcast platforms, in order to be able to share this collection while instore book launches and signings and library readings are currently impossible. After the first episode and its wonderful reception, I realized that we’re all in the same boat, looking for new ways to be heard while staying indoors and now I have guest poets reading their work with on each week. The 3rd episode had 8 astonishing poets from all around the world and that, to be able to hold and share these words and sounds while each on our stay on own island, is another dream come true.

‘And still we come to the lake where language lingers’.

(c) Damien B Donnelly

About Eat the Storms:

“This is a richly-suggestive, highly-vivid collection of poems, depicting a wide canvas of emotional landscapes with painter-like precision. The intensely visual aspect of Donnelly’s writing is encapsulated in ‘The Irises of our Eyes’, where the poetic speaker is caught up in a visionary experience, where nature, art and language become one.

‘Crazed caught on canvas, caught in colour,

thought tempered in sweeping strokes-

we can be carried away in seas of grass’

It’s no surprise that Donnelly is also a painter and designer and repeated references to colour amplify and intensify emotions in rhapsodic waves of word-pictures, provoking intense feelings of joy and grief, as seen in the poignant ‘Tattered brown trousers’, where the fragilities of a father are darkly-depicted.

‘Eat the Storms’ is a sensory reading experience, with an accessible, appealing and multi-layered voice. Each new reading reveals different shades of meaning and all the nuances of Donnelly’s lyric voice. At once tender and lyrical, there are poignant and troubling moments throughout: the pain of experience – ‘the simple route the river runs, the rustle of the red rose tipped with thorns’; the recurring motif of fragile relationships; the conflicting desires for belonging and freedom; the gut-wrenching theme of being deserted; the complexities of identity and the ever-shifting sense of self we experience – ‘beneath the red ink tipped into this flesh’.

This is a striking, powerful collection, which achieves a balance between a personal, expansive and lyric style and the taut control needed to achieve fine poetry.”

Matthew M. C. Smith, Poet and editor of Black Bough Poetry.

“Damien Donnelly is the archduke of alliteration and a poet in love with colour and sensuality. The poems in this first collection pop with blinding whites, rich reds and purples, and the yellow of Van Gogh sunflowers. They are jazz riffs on journeys, prisms chasing and catching the light. There is darkness too, in lines such as “Father ate all the flowers/in the back garden”, and there are slower poems of self-assessment, including this finely achieved passage in “Red Ink”:

“I am looking

to find a new shape; turning back, returning,

recalling that first mark, to measure how far

from it I ran, to see what was left behind…”

Above all, there is a sweeping positive energy, a welcoming of all that the world has to offer, and a certainty that “dark doors open often into hopeful”.”

Catherine Ann Cullen, Poet

“In a pamphlet saturated in colour, Damien Donnelly takes us on an immersive journey through a landscape of pigments. Written with great lyricism and emotional intensity, these poems contrast darker hues with lighter tones to create a sequence of poems that will linger in the memory.”

Jessica Traynor, Poet

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Damien, 44, Dublin born, returned to Ireland in 2019 after 23 years in Paris, London and Amsterdam, has been writing since childhood, poetry and short stories questioning identity, sexuality and fragility. His daily interests revolve around falling over and learning how to get up again while making delicious cakes. He’s been featured in the books ‘Second Chance’ from Original Writing, ‘Body Horror’ from Gehenna & Hinnom, ‘Nous Sommes Paris’ from Eyewear Publishing and The Runt Magazine. Online, he has been featured in Coffin Bell, Black Bough Poetry, Scribe Base, Barren Magazine. This is his debut collection of poetry and he is honoured to be in the hands of The Hedgehog Press.

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