C.M.P. Interviews Steve Denehan

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Interview by James D. Casey IV, Founder/Editor-in-Chief of Cajun Mutt Press

Steve Denehan lives in Kildare, Ireland with his wife Eimear and daughter Robin. Publication credits include The Irish Times, Poetry Ireland Review, The Phoenix, The Blue Nib, The Opiate, The Hungry Chimera, Ink in Thirds, Crack The Spine and The Cape Rock.  He has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize and Best New Poet. His chapbook, Of Thunder, Pearls and Birdsong is available from Fowlpox Press, and his new full-length collection of poetry, Miles of Sky Above Us, Miles of Earth Below is available now from Cajun Mutt Press.

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J.D.C.IV Who is Steve Denehan? Tell us a bit about yourself.

S.D. There’s not a whole lot to tell really. I wish there was! I’m 44, married to Eimear and we have a little girl called Robin. They would pop up fairly regularly in my poems actually. I haven’t really been writing poems too long. Or rather, I haven’t been submitting too long. I would have been writing poems and other bits and pieces all the way along but only got to submitting them two years ago or so.

J.D.C.IV Sounds like you have two wonderful muses to help you in your writing process. When did you start writing poetry? Was it something you fell in love with at a young age, or something you took interest in as you got older?

S.D. So much stuff comes from listening to and watching Robin. The way she, like any seven-year-old, sees the world is amazing and poems just appear all around her.

I would have always written poetry but never with any discipline and often for no reason at all. I suppose it’s like how somebody might doodle with a pencil to kill time except with me it was with words.

I’m not sure I ever really fell in love with poetry. It probably sounds a little odd but I wouldn’t really consider myself a huge poetry fan. While I do read poetry, and have been reading more these last couple of years, I much rather reading fiction.

J.D.C.IV That’s beautiful, “poems just appear all around her.” Sometimes that’s the best way to approach poetry, with the eyes of a child.

Many poets, more often now I believe, don’t write with any discipline or reason. Myself included. But I also believe real poetry must be written this way to achieve its goal. And practice makes perfect.

As someone who says they never fell in love with poetry and isn’t a big poetry fan, who are some of your favorite poets? And who are some of your favorite fiction writers?

S.D. I think too much discipline or planning is dangerous! I would feel strongly that writing should flow and have a realness to it and, for me at least, that comes only when it is not forced. So I just kind of wait for it to happen or to come along.

I am struggling to think of poets that I have read enough to mention. Which I know is kind of terrible. I listen to a huge amount of music and would consider many songwriters to be poets. People like Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, and many others write the most beautiful poetry and then, somehow make it even more magical by setting it to music. Even someone like Jim Croce can say so much, everything really, in a two-minute song like “Salon and Saloon”. It is all so simple too which I like. In terms of an actual poet, I have read a big old wedge of Charles Bukowski but he was so prolific that I am probably only halfway through what he produced. I love his style and how he flits from sadness to humour often in the same poem. I have read two of your books (so far) and you would have a similar style too I think. To make people feel happy and sad in just a few lines is an amazing thing.

I could go on and on about my favourite fiction writers but I especially love, and would highly recommend, Glen Duncan. How he is not a household name is ridiculous really as he writes the most insightful and dense books about the human condition. I, Lucifer is a great starting point with him. I loved Paul Auster’s early and middle periods but I think he has got a little self-indulgent over the last ten years or so. I love a guy called Joe R. Lansdale who is so prolific that he writes them almost as fast as I can read them. The Bottoms by Joe is one of my all-time favourites. Then, there is the man himself, JD. Salinger who I have read and reread over the years. I read an interview with his son recently actually who confirmed that all of the work Salinger produced over the last fifty years of his life will be released in the next five years or so. I can’t wait to gobble it all up.

J.D.C.IV I agree, it should just flow and be real. I also agree with music being poetry. Cohen and Waits are two of the biggest influences on my writing. And ole Buk, he’s definitely one of the greats. He’s definitely one of my personal favorite poets, infinite thanks for the comparison.

As far as fiction, I never got too heavy into it. There are a few honorable mentions for me, The Outsiders, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Bukowski’s Ham on Rye.

What prompted you to put your new collection, Miles of Sky Above us, Miles of Earth Below together? You have some beautiful pieces of poetry in this book.

S.D. Actually, that’s right, I should have mentioned Bukowski’s “fiction”. They are some of the funniest and most painful books I have read. What a guy.

Again, I wish I had a more interesting answer for you but I have no reason that I can think of for putting the collection together. I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought really. Maybe it just comes back to the fact that it just felt right. I find that things work out a little better for me when I listen to my gut rather than my head. If I overthink things I seem to get a bit tangled. I seem to write a lot in comparison to other people so I had quite a few poems sitting here. I thought it would be a super cool thing to put them together as a collection and see if somebody might be interested in publishing it. Thankfully, that’s when you appeared!

I think it’s important to say that putting the book together isn’t just a profoundly enormous thing for me, but for my family. They are all in there and it honestly wouldn’t have come to pass without them. It was Eimear who persuaded me to submit the poems in the first place and my family hop in and out of the poems regularly. I was kind of a bare-minimum guy in school and have kind of spent forty years coasting along happily behind the scenes so the fact that there is a book with my name on it out in the world is a happy surprise for my parents and family. Nobody, including myself, would have seen it coming a year or two ago.

J.D.C.IV I can relate to not putting much thought into a book because of having amassed enough writing for a collection. My first two titles were put together using writing I had gathered over a twenty-year span since my teens. From the third book on is when I started putting any purposely calculated thought into my poetry collections.

I do see a reoccurring theme of family in these poems, a lot of them your father. It’s good to have a strong family bond. But a few of my favorites like Jesus or Rasputin, Knuckles Bruised from Punching Raindrops, and Chinaski didn’t mention family. Can you tell us the inspiration behind them? And what made you choose Jesus or Rasputin as the opener?

S.D. If I’m lucky enough to have another collection someday I’ll see if I can have a theme running through it maybe. Then again I do like variety. If I keep harping on about one thing I bore myself so I can only imagine how someone reading might feel.

I chose Jesus or Rasputin as the opening poem purely because of the title. I don’t seem to have much of a knack for choosing titles and often I just pick any old line from the poem itself and make that the title. I thought Jesus or Rasputin was kind of eye-catching though so I went with that. The poem itself was inspired by something Robin said even though she does not make an appearance in it. She is at the age where she asks many, many, many ridiculous questions and was going through a phase of asking about rain. I got to thinking about how all water is constantly being recycled and is as old as time really. The poem is just considering the possibility that a drop of rain that falls on me today could have fallen on Abraham Lincoln or Genghis Khan. Every drop, every molecule has an impossible and infinite journey but then, when it comes down to it, it generally ends up falling here in Ireland and messing up our plans!

Knuckles Bruised from Punching Raindrops is a poem about frustration really. It can be so easy to let a small thing get in on you and overwhelm you. At least it can be for me. That particular morning there really was a bird that was mimicking an alarm and it was driving me bananas.

Chinaski is about Bukowski. As you would definitely know Chinaski was his alter ego from many of his stories. I had read a book of his poetry that he had written towards the end of his life and I was pleased to see that, while he had finally reached a level of financial comfort, the fire in him was undimmed.

J.D.C.IV Themes are more for a short chapbook collection of poetry, that’s why prefer to publish full-length collections because there’s usually a broader subject manner.

That’s an insightful sentiment about rainfall. Being that any drop could’ve fallen on anyone throughout history and will infinitely from here on out because it’s recycled, even Jesus or Rasputin. I hadn’t thought of it that way, and I’m glad the bird you mentioned in Knuckles Bruised from Punching Raindrops visited your washing line that fateful morning. Otherwise, that poem may have never come to be.

As for Chinaski, I knew it was about Buk, glad you could still see the flame in his later work. I was just wondering if he’d come to you in a dream or vision of some sort that prompted the write. What about the experimental piece, Style/Content? Tell us about that one.

S.D. Ah, I see! I guess that makes sense. I don’t know if I would even have the discipline to have a theme running through a chapbook. Maybe it is something that comes along with experience.

Almost all the poems I have written start with one tiny thing, an image or a word, and things go from there. With Chinaski, it wasn’t a dream or vision but the thought of him as an older guy kind of hunched over his typewriter. I thought of him in side profile and with him typing and crooked with age and time he looked to me like a human question mark. The poem all came quickly then. That’s what always happens actually. My brain is usually pretty empty which seems to be a good thing with poetry because when the beginning of a poem comes along the rest follows quickly.

Ah, Style/Content! That was a messy one for you to format in the book I’m sure. Thanks for persevering with it. When it comes to poetry, and life in general really, I don’t like anything to distract from what is truly important, which is the words. I have read lots of poems that have been written with unusual spacing and tabs and that kind of thing. I have almost always found it distracting and an annoyance that takes me out of the poem itself. It can work of course and I have used unusual formatting (sparingly) on occasion myself. But flinging the words all over the page for the sake of it drives me a little bit mad. Style/Content was me trying to make that point.

J.D.C.IV I don’t know if it comes with experience per se when writing a themed chapbook, more like having multiple things to say about the same thing. Most of my poems start in the same way you just stated. I’ll get an idea, or a single line will come to mind, and I just run with it. I dig the idea of a “human question mark.” That’s a powerful image to compare to an old gnarled Bukowski still leaning against his machine, pecking out the words with weathered hands.

The message you wanted to convey with Style/Content came across perfectly. I agree 100% that a lot of the poems with crazy formatting are completely unnecessary. Yours makes perfect sense.

Tell me, what are some of your personal favorite poems from the book and why?

S.D. I found with your book Death & Love/Love & Death there was a feeling, a really strong feeling, that ran right the way through it. I really liked that and would love to be able to manage it myself. I know there were poems about love and about death but it wasn’t that theme that struck me but that feeling, that depth. If I could end up getting something like that together I’d be chuffed.

I can’t remember what poems exactly are in the book actually, one sec and I’ll grab it…

There are a lot of poems about how close I am with my parents that mean a lot to me. I am adopted and could have ended up anywhere with anyone so I always think how lucky I was how things worked out. My parents are remarkable people and I love them very much. I hope that comes out in the poems in which they are mentioned. There are poems, quite a lot of poems actually, that people tell me they find dark but to me they are funny. Poems like Ivory, Hate, and Birdsong. Birdsong in particular always makes me smile as in that poem of larks and nightingales I am the crow.

J.D.C.IV I’m glad you enjoyed it, that was a fun write. Death & Love/Love & Death started off as an experiment to see if I could pull off a true tête-bêche. Only two proof copies were printed the way I intended. Had a bit of trouble getting it to print half right-side-up and half upside-down.

I dig the imagery in Ivory, and I like that it’s a little horrific and hilarious at the same time. I’ve had a few teeth pulled in my day and it went quite like that.

Hate holds a positive message, even with the slight twist. As hard as it is for us to admit it, I believe we all hold some degree of hate in our hearts for one thing or another.

Birdsong paints a beautiful picture, then beautifully destroys it. Who are the metaphorical larks, blackbirds, and nightingales that the crow’s squawk scatters at the end of the poem?

S.D. Those two proof copies are your pension!

Yeah, I think Hate has a positive message. I think it’s okay to hate. In fact, I think it’s absolutely vital to feel passionately whether it is love or hate. I mean, without feeling hate I’m not sure it’s possible to feel love, and vice versa. I think hate can be a very healthy thing. But, I am bringing the book up to my parents tomorrow and I know for sure Dad will again give me the old lecture on how I shouldn’t hate.

That’s a good question about Birdsong! I hadn’t considered who the other birds in the poem might be. I’m not sure now that I think of it. I suspect that maybe they are the people who care a lot about how they are perceived by everyone else. People who carefully cultivate an image and who never show their real selves. They are impossible to get to know and there is a part of me that doubts whether there even are real people underneath. I like people who are real. I like oddballs. I think I might be an oddball.

J.D.C.IV I don’t know about pension, but hopefully someone will see them as holding some sort of worth one day.

Again, I agree with you. I believe it is vital to feel passionately, love or hate, and I’ve always considered myself an oddball. I think you fit that saying well, I dig your style. May the crow’s squawk forever reveal the real underneath.

Well, brother, thanks for letting me pick your brain a little. One more question before we wrap it up. What’s on the horizon for Steve Denehan? Are there any future projects in the works? Tell us about the blog tour you have coming up in November for Miles of Sky Above Us, Miles of Earth Below and any other interviews/reviews we should keep an eye out for. You can also mention/thank a few people, make any dedications, and add anything else you’d like to say.

The floor is yours.

S.D. I was talking to a good friend of mine earlier this evening and we were saying that if one person reads a poem and it has a positive impact, even a small one, that’s about as good as it gets. So, you are way ahead of the curve there. You are prolific, have many books published and have your own press! Your worth is not someday, it’s now.

Hehe, yeah, us crows have got to keep squawking and stick together!

Thanks a million for taking the time James. I enjoyed the interview. Thanks also for taking a chance on me. I really hope the book sells well for you and for Cajun Mutt Press. The Blog Tour might hopefully help it along and is due to kick off towards the end of November. There will be a new (hopefully not terrible!) review posted every day to reignite interest and there will be an interview or two also. It might keep it in peoples minds in the run-up to Christmas.

I am not too great at making plans for the future. There are a few poems on the horizon that I am looking forward to seeing out in the world. Oh, I just found out this week that Analog Submission Press has accepted a chapbook of mine so that will be coming along at some point too. Beyond and besides that I’ll just keep writing and see where it leads.

There are so many people to thank. A special mention as always must go to my old teacher, Mr. Shanahan, who showed me, who showed us all, how lives can be changed with just a few words. I am wary of singling people out though as I would hate to exclude anyone. It has been a genuinely amazing thing though, almost since the beginning. People have been so kind and so supportive and I think that has been the most surprising and meaningful part of it all.

J.D.C.IV Thank you, Steve, it was a pleasure putting this book together with you and having this little back and forth. I appreciate you answering some questions and letting us get to know you better.

That’s an important fact about a poem having even the smallest positive impact on someone as well. That’s what really counts, and I’m honored I could help bring your first collection of poetry to life. I’m also looking forward to following the tour, seeing the reviews, your new Analog Submission chapbook, and all the other stellar things to come!

Write On, Squawk!
🤘💀

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