The Streets, Like Flowers, Come Alive in The Rain,
(Steve Denehan, Potter’s Grove Press, 2021)
The first impression a reader may have when encountering Steve Denehan’s new collection is that the author has found his version of the good life and is unapologetically living it. There’s little poetic angst here – The Streets, Like Flowers, Come Alive in the Rain is quietly life-affirming and uplifting, but never corny or overly sentimental. Instead, it revels in the knowledge that joy arrives quietly, without fanfare, in small domestic moments. Take the poem ‘Rain’, where the author reflects that ‘happiness comes easy these days’, and that after searching for it for years, he realises ‘it was there all along/ hiding in plain sight/ in the folds of that old woollen blanket/ in the press filled with lunchboxes and Tupperware.’
That’s not to say that Denehan shies away from the difficult subjects, far from it. In The Tossed Coins of John Canning, the poet’s family meets a homeless man ‘a hard life behind him/a harder one to come’. Discovering that he is also a poet ‘of wrong turns/ and bad calls’, Denehan muses that ‘it could have been me/ could still be yet.’ This is someone who never takes his version of the good life for granted, who knows that everything can change in a heartbeat. Perhaps this is the key to the sense of quiet gratitude that permeates this collection.
Denehan is a humane, compassionate writer, but he also gives wry expression to some of the absurdities of modern life. In The High Cost of Breathing, Denehan recounts his disbelief at ‘The Oxygen Bar’, where he encounters a dozen people ‘smiling under oxygen masks/ breathing pure air/scented with flowers and butterscotch’. In Destination Restaurant, the poet can’t hide his revulsion at the ‘guffaw…of a truffle scoffing, oily-mouthed snob’. Denehan picks apart the absurdity and pretension of modern life with skilful precision, whilst reminding us of what’s really important – meaningful relationships with those we love.
It’s no surprise then that the most memorable poems are those written about Denehan’s daughter, Robin, who provides the foreword for the book. In One More Week, Robin writes a poem about her grandfather – ‘having read it/ I was quiet/ while I waited/ for the lump in my throat to subside’. In The Dance Class he muses that ‘inside her chest there are no corners/ her blood/ and some of mine/ dark fire dancing…with the only music that really matters.’
This is a collection primarily concerned with what really matters. It never sacrifices sincerity for artfulness but is nonetheless accomplished. As Robin herself says of her Dad’s writing – ‘his poems always make me think.’