Just occasionally you come across a voice in poetry that is distinctive and unique. Damien Donnelly in his first collection ‘Eat the Storms’ is exactly that.
The world in Donnelly’s poems is a chaotic and turbulent place with no defining truth or reality. Life is problematic and alienating. Humankind has lost its way and the individual is powerless and adrift: ‘I have drowned more, before, on quiet corners, in safe seats,/in non-comforting crowds; dozens all searching/for their own spotlight in place of a single soul.’ One must find one’s own way and to do this one must discover who one is and where one belongs. As a consequence in many of the poems we find Donnelly withdrawing into himself (‘absorbing, reflecting, meditating‘), searching for meaning and questioning ‘creation/and (his) position within it’. He is ‘looking/to find a new shape.’ This is no easy task. In the past he has ducked the challenge, ‘taken flight’, and pretended to be what he is not: ‘stilled the air with performances; shy boy/in the spotlight singing songs he can’t quite/find the notes for, or the right to call his own.‘ So difficult is it to find the answers he is seeking, he wonders if ‘the blind can see better’ than him. Yet he persists: trying to make sense of his past, his relationships and his childhood to resolve unsettled issues, such as the relationship with his father, in the deeply moving ‘Tattered Brown Trousers’.
The poems enact this struggle, yet there is a sustaining optimism: ‘We can’t all be angels but we can rise upon the air we eat/the touch we have tasted, the flesh we have crept from, swept upon,//found a fondness for.’ In the final poem of this short collection he reminds us that ‘black is only a shadow’ and he exhorts us to ‘Come catch the colour, catch the kisses/catch the life racing by in taxis, on trains/under starry night waiting for us to paint them/Behold how much there is to love/to let go of, to learn from.‘
Donnelly’s poetry is beautifully written and dense with vivid imagery, sometimes synesthetic and sometimes surreal. It demands to be read aloud and as one does a kaleidoscope of colour illuminates each page, for these are poems that play on the cultural associations of colours, imbuing them with personal significance and resonance.
This is a writer of real talent, whose first pamphlet rewards reading, reading again and reading again.
Damien B. Donnelly is 44, Dublin born and returned to Ireland in 2019 after 23 years in Paris, London and Amsterdam. Since childhood he has written poetry and short stories questioning identity, sexuality and fragility. ‘Eat the Storms’ is his debut collection of poetry and is published by The Hedgehog Press. To buy, click here. For more information visit his website by clicking here.