These stories/poems/writing series were done around 2005/2006. The Bible Belt Bachelor originally was a book I was writing and eventually got bored writing since I had the whole book done in my mind, but had to do all the work. I guess when I was 24, I wasn’t quite ready to do that. I eventually chopped up what I wrote, and yet had fully written out and made several poems from the scraps. I also was writing several poem series at this time and the News Stand, a series of poems about a delusional addict struggling with the battles of mental health, drugs, and depression. The poems are on the link below with Cajun Mutt Press.
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
J.D. I entered a Halloween poem contest in grade school, won first prize, and that really fanned the flames.
My earliest influences were writers like Poe and Frost; as I got older I started getting into the beat poets. Then I discovered Hunter S. Thompson, and that’s when my passion for writing really sank in. All literary genres. not just poetry.
Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?
J.D. : Ron Whitehead, hands down, that man is a powerhouse of poetic energy. Not many people have dedicated their lives to the craft the way he has. He went all in, and I love that. That’s where I strive to be in the future.
Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing? Have any travels away from home influence your work?
J.D.: I was born in Colorado, grew up in Louisiana/Mississippi, moved up to Illinois a few years ago, and I’ve done my fair share of traveling. Mostly by bus and train. It’s most definitely an influence on my poetry and art. I love to draw and paint as well as write.
Q4: What do you consider the most meaningful work that you’ve done creatively so far?
J.D.: Cajun Mutt Press. Literature is extremely important to me. I like to believe I’m doing it justice by getting the words out into the world. I publish featured writers on our website every Mon/Wed/Fri, and full-length poetry collections in paperback.
Q5: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
J.D.: When it saved my life. I got in a bad accident at work in 2008. Broke C2 in my neck and T3-T4 in my back. Then on top of several other things that were piling up, my mom passed of cancer in 2009. That put me in a tailspin of self-destruction. Eventually, I had to enter rehab. Once my mind was clear the poetry and art started pouring out like never before and I realized this is what I wanted to do in life. It brought me out of the dark.
Q6: Favorite activities to relax?
J.D.: I like to collect things. Books, bones, crystals, toys that I grew up with. Stuff like that. And I always like to have music playing. I’m a huge Deadhead but I love all music. I have pretty eclectic taste.
Q7: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?
I Hear Your Music Night and Day by Dave O’Leary was recently published by Cajun Mutt Press in May, and I have a few more books lined up before the end of the year.
“Poetry and short prose about the musical life and the lost words of youth, about the places where love might be found or misplaced and dreams not quite made and celebrity encounters and being short on funds and the necessity of bus rides and bus stops and homes and the small moments that resonate and, of course, cats.”
Manuscript submissions are currently CLOSED, but if you’d like to submit some work to be considered as a Featured Writer send 1-3 poems to email@example.com along with a bio and author photo. All unpublished work, no simultaneous submissions. Please be patient for a response. I get a ton of emails.
Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem of yours or others?
Well, it isn’t a single line, but this is one of my personal favorites that I’ve written…
A Shortlist of Things I Learned by my Late-30s
god has tits jesus was black the only race is human
life after death? we’ll all know eventually
. . . or we won’t
anger and hatred is a cancer you gotta let that shit go
we’re labeled men and women but we can be what we want including something else entirely
love who the fuck you love
cats are assholes but cooler than dogs –
okay, that one is just an opinion
the world fucking sucks sometimes but it can also be pretty cool so it balances itself out
friends come and go you’ll know the real ones they stick around or find their way back
money comes and goes spend that shit can’t take it with but you CAN be buried with it
. . . because fuck ’em right?
when you reach a certain age you start writing dumb lists to put things into perspective
J.D.: My Beautiful Muse, Raissa. She’s my proofreader. I show her everything, and she’s always honest. Tells me if a line sounds wrong or suggests little edits here and there. She’s usually right.
BIO: James D. Casey IV is an artist, award-winning poet, author of seven poetry collections, and founder/editor-in-chief of Cajun Mutt Press. His work has been published in print and online by several small press venues and literary magazines internationally.
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
Dave: I made some attempts at writing poems and stories in elementary school and high school and on into college but at one point I realized I needed more life experience. I needed to read more so I largely paused. I kept writing in notebooks and always had one with me but never tried to publish anything until I started a blog at 39. At that point, I was basically living without meaning or direction, but I did have by that time more life experience so I decided finally to start writing things down in a way that others could see them. The idea was to use the blog to develop a few short stories and eventually a collection, but it instead turned in my first book, Horse Bite.
As for influences at that time, the main one was Haruki Murakami. I first came across his writing when I was living in South Korea. I read an English translation of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, and it just blew me away with the removal of sound and splitting the shadow from the self and all these fantastical things while also mixing in music and pop culture references. It just made sense to me, and music has been since then a huge part of my writing as well, so much so the my second book was actually called The Music Book. I love too how Murakami has kept with short stories over the years. That’s where my own focus is at the moment.
Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?
One writer I’ve long admired is Graham Swift. Last Orders is one of my favorite books, one of those I’ve read multiple times. His writing is so effortless. I’ve read things where it’s obvious the writer is trying too hard, but never with Swift. It’s something I aspire to. For poetry these days, I’ve been reading Kim Addonizio. I’d never heard of her until a few years ago, which I suppose is because I was in Korea, but I so wish I’d found her work earlier. Tell Me and What is This Thing Called Love are fantastic. Some other poetry books I’ve read recently are Homie by Danez Smith, every love story is an apocalypse story by donna vorreyer, and Torn Up by C. Cimmone. All wonderful stuff.
Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing? Have any travels away from home influence your work/describe?
Dave: I grew up in parts of the Midwest with one brief stint in the South. We moved around a bit and at one point were moving every two years. It probably helped my writing in that I read more since being a new kid in school meant going times with no or few friends. My time in South Korea helped too with perspective. People should spend some time living in another country if they can rather than just traveling through places on vacation. I was teaching English there and not making much money, struggling with the day to day of life much as I would have if I’d stayed in America and waited tables while trying to make it in a band. Sometimes I’d go a week or so without seeing anyone who looked like me or who spoke English, and that really helped give me a sense of scale on my place in the world, the smallness of the individual, and it’s really where the writing bug began to seriously creep back into my soul. I stayed there for eight years and might have stayed longer but for a horrible relationship I was in.
Q4: What do you consider the most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far?
Dave: For me, it’s always the most recent thing so it has to be my new collection (poetry, short prose) I Hear Your Music Playing Night and Day, Cajun Mutt Press. Each book has gotten closer to the heart of it all, the heart of what I’m trying to say anyway. That’s the goal. I wouldn’t put a book out if I felt it was somehow less meaningful than what came before it.
Q5: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
I’ll give you two. When I was in third grade I started playing violin and soon got pretty good at it and my teacher once said, “If you get good enough at violin, you’ll be able to teach yourself how to play the guitar.” It didn’t mean anything when he first said it, but then one day I heard Cheap Trick on the radio, the Live at Budokan album, and I was blown away and realized I wanted to do that. I don’t make a living as a musician but I’ve had a lot of wonderful musical moments of the years. My book release party recently turned into more of a live music show since it just felt so good to be playing again in front of people.
For writing, the moment was around the same time. We read the book Rascal in class and it was the first time a story just stuck with me and deeply moved me. The ending of that book got under my skin and I thought I wanted to do that. I wanted to write stories that affected people in that same way. Perhaps it was because I’d never experienced and real loss at that point of my life so it opened up for me a whole new set of emotions. None of my three books have been best sellers, but with each one I’ve been contacted by people who told me how the book as a whole or some piece of it really meant something to them either because it opened something up or reflected something of their own experience. It that sense then they’ve all been successful.
Q6: Favorite activities to relax?
Dave: Music. There are certainly people who are way better musicians than I am, but I’ve always enjoyed playing either with others or on my own in the basement. Sometimes my only friend was whichever acoustic guitar I happened to own at the time. And music is certainly one thing that helped me get through the pandemic. A couple friends would come over and we’d have socially distant drinks out back and eventually we’d break out the guitars and have socially distant, masked jam sessions, and it turned into a kind of pandemic band so I had the same group of people (three of us) play at my book release party in mid-June.
Q7: Any recent or forthcoming projects you’d like to promote?
My third book, I Hear Your Music Playing Night and Day, came out at the end of May from Cajun Mutt Press, and to quote the promo copy, it’s a collection of “poetry and short prose about the musical life and the lost words of youth, about the places where love might be found or misplaced and dreams not quite made and celebrity encounters and being short on funds and the necessity of bus rides and bus stops and homes and the small moments that resonate and, of course, cats.”
Q8: What is one of your favorite lines/stanza from a poem or song of yours or others?
Funny you mention poem or song. I wrote a poem called “Pause” years ago in college that became a song for my then band and I included an acoustic version of it on the CD that accompanied The Music Book back in 2014. Last summer though, I got the idea to take that song and condense it to its essence and the editors at Versification were kind enough to include it in their inaugural issue last summer, and it made it into the new book too. The line about the mosquitoes was what stuck with me all these years because it’s so much of what life is and it’s what prompted me to rework it last summer.
“Swarms of mosquitoes swirl and buzz in my living room. They dive bomb me and I swat, miss, hit myself in the face…”
In the old song it was this. It’s more rock and roll for sure but less poetic:
“Heading out through the swarms of mosquitoes in my living room.”
Over the last ten years it’s been mainly two people. First, there’s my writer friend Clint Brownlee (His book: https://www.amazon.com/Pearl-Jams-Vs-33-154/dp/1501355309). He’s read early drafts of all my books and really helped me cut what wasn’t working and prompted me to delve more deeply where needed. And especially with the first book, I needed a lot of that. It’s been invaluable to have that critical voice shared over beers. Any music fans should check out his book about the recording of Pearl Jam’s Vs. album. Second, there’s my wife, Allison Severinghaus. She supports my writing, of course, but she’s also brutally honest when she thinks the writing is subpar, which sadly it sometimes is. She keeps me on my writing toes and pushes me to be a better writer and a better person.
Too frail, too timeworn, so on my wedding day I came to her overdressed in the day room, I looked in aged faces to no avail then, a chuckle, and there under a clock, she sat I kneeled before her letting soundless seconds fall between us the change in her jarring impossible to reconcile to my bedside locker photograph a stranger before her I took her hand and she let me her skin, gossamer over tiny bird bones I looked into her eyes, once fire now ash “I’m getting married today” “That’s nice” lifetimes before, she took the world by the tail and squeezed and shook to our family of land dwellers she blazed across the heavens she was the child of Icarus and Earhart she was mountainside heather she was paddle boats and big band jazz she was a wave on Mirror Lake before in the now we hold hands and do not speak I gaze into her eyes eyes that saw it all and I find her, I find her “I know you” “I’m getting married today” “You are?” “I am” “Do I know her?” “Not yet” “I was married once” “I know”
“Let yourself be happy” “I will try” “I know you”
I feel her squeeze my hand I look down and see a map liver spot countries once explored I look back up to find her leaning in conspiratorially whispering, just in case “sometimes men come to my room during the night” “do they?” “they do, they come to my window” “is that right?” “it is, I tell the staff but… …they do not believe me” “will I tell them?” “oh no, sometimes I leave the window open”
she winks and cackles and the day room silence is gone a startled flock of birds “Shut up Thrush!”, says another elderly lady “I will not shut up!” she smiles at me and I watch as the stardust falls from her eyes and her hand grows limp in mine and she is gone
Previously published in, ‘Of Thunder, Pearls and Birdsong’, by Fowlpox Press, available here
I held my daughter’s hand as we stumble-skated long circles of hearts stopping and hearts racing exchanging eyes-to-heaven glances with another father it was almost empty and the music echoed besides us, there were a group of girls slurping blue slushies and chattering in gasps then, I saw another teenage girl alone and heavy she must have weighed fifteen stone, maybe more she put on her skates clumsily with dimpled knuckles we skated on “look at her” said my daughter pointing I turned around with dread and saw her weightless gliding, easily as if pulled along by a thousand fairies we watched as she twirled like water down a sink and smiled at my daughter while skating backwards as she passed skipping from one foot to the other I saw my little girl inch taller comforted by the knowledge that impossible is just a word that life is hers and ripe for plucking she lets go of my hand time stretches and contracts in that peculiar way and we watch her heavy and light fifteen stone of song swaying and swooping and she falls corners of her landing hard marrow freezing in my bones there is a sound then vicious snorts sneering laughter the group of girls slushies gone white teeth, pointing I want to run to them to scream into their faces until my throat is raw I want to pull their tongues from their mouths and stamp them to a paste instead, we help her up she feels light still in my arms my daughter takes my hand I see the beginnings of tears as she is not too young to realise we take off our skates and put on our shoes and get the hell out of there
There was always a guy with freakish strength generally wiry happy to stay in the background an easy wallflower he avoided trouble dodged first and second glances but the strength, simmering steel was always there utterly disproportionate to his frame bigger guys bounced off him on pitches arm wrestles were won smoothly and without expression to sighs and disbelief even deep cuts and gashes never phased him I didn’t know what to put it down to this defiance of natural laws always so quiet, so placid I never knew where the strength came from until years later when I learned that the placid have more rage than anyone
Shadows in shadows I could not see his face though I could smell his breath we sat very close to each other a thin partition between us he, a middle-aged man me, a boy anxious and alone he asked if I had sinned I told him that I had listed them as I had rehearsed he wanted more wanted impure thoughts I made some up afterwards, I knelt on a pew closed my eyes said my penance quickly wondering if there would come a day when it would all make sense
A Worm in 1981
I am a worm having burrowed under the covers deep to the bottom of my bed I lie there, curled the mattress pressing up into me the blankets pressing down upon me breathing until the air is gone until the only air left is my own and I take it hot and damp back into myself in quick, shallow gulps looking around in that quiet dark I hear the door open feel my father’s hand through the blankets on the small of my back and I understand even then that it is impossible to disappear completely
Rockfield Hotel, Brittas Bay, County Wicklow
we changed our clothes as workmen walked through our room carrying floorboards on their shoulders, nodding hellos as evening fell, we arrived in the lounge I saw a cordless drill in amongst the bronze and red velvet an open tin of paint on the bar a huge, panoramic window looked over all of Wicklow but it was dark and we could see nothing a gigantic circular grill stood in the centre of the lounge but the chimney was blocked we sat spluttering and laughing in the smoke as the night swirled around us we ate charred food and shook our heads I wondered whose fingerprints were on the lip of my glass there was a comedian that laughed at his own jokes and we laughed with him there was a pianist and he could play and did, until the piano bled and my father, ten years without decided to have just one cigarette I watched him suck on it, lost in it it was the beginning of something and the end of something else
Another Poem About Time
Time stopped at least once for eight seconds or so I know I was there inside my inert body looking out looking through eyes fused slightly to the left there was no sound no heartbeat no breath taken, given I saw half of the window an autumn butterfly paused that crack in the plaster the cat on the windowsill paused my daughter our daughter the side of her cheek the corner of her mouth, a smile paused I saw the sleeve of your jacket blue veins in your wrist the blood in them paused the swirls and curls of your hair no longer alive not dead as such but paused your neck open and elegant your laughing mouth a photograph of joy when time stopped I saw your eyes I saw the way you looked at me before it was too late
Comets and Moons and Whole Worlds
A long day a long drive home I carve through towns and villages see old ladies carrying plastic bags they lean into the wind and the rain and the cold and the night as they make their way home to put the dinner on boil the kettle to call a sister on the phone to compare days and months and years and lives unaware that they are galaxies that comets and moons and whole worlds came from them move inside them still I coast to a stop on the driveway pull up the handbrake watch raindrops trickle down the windscreen taking with them all the stars
His Name Escapes Me Right Now but It Might Come Back to Me Later
They gave him everything water torture sleep deprivation they starved him removed his fingernails the fingers themselves his ears they peeled parts of his forearms and thighs dripped acid onto his feet cut words across his chest and stomach his motorcade had driven too close to enemy lines he had been captured a bounty, a piñata bulging with military secrets held for months presumed dead forgotten by most until his body what was left of his body was returned it is believed that he gave them nothing that he endured it all everything they had and gave them nothing maybe nothing was all he had to give maybe it was that simple either way his family their knees worn smooth from prayer got him back at his funeral there were flags and a twenty-one-gun salute that frightened his son his family were given a medal in lieu of his bravery it was shiny
An Interview with Steve Denehan
Please describe your latest book, what about your book will intrigue the readers the most, what is the theme or mood? Steve: My latest book was released in October by The Golden Antelope Press and is called ‘Days of Falling Flesh and Rising Moons’. I try to write each day, so a lot of the poems are about day-to-day things really. The enormity of small things is something I find interesting so a fair few are poems about that, mundane things changed by our perception of them.
What frame of mind and ideas lead to you writing your current book? Steve: A poem can come from anywhere, anywhere at all so it’s hard to be specific about a frame of mind or ideas really. A line comes along and I build on that. It all happens really quickly. Quite a lot of poems come from me mishearing song lyrics actually. I’m sure it was just the same for Shakespeare!
How old were you when you first have become serious about your writing, do you feel your work is always adapting? Steve: I can’t say that I’ve ever been serious about writing really. Writing a poem is great, the best and I love it but there’s never been any real plan. When I finish writing a poem, I immediately forget about it and don’t think about writing again until another one comes along. In terms of adapting I’m sure the poems have changed and are changing as time goes but, if they are, it’s not a conscious thing. I just write them as they come.
What authors, poets, musicians have helped shape your work, or who do you find yourself being drawn to the most? Steve: I’m sure everyone is, to a large extent, a product of what they have read or listened to. I would say that songwriters have had more of an impact on me really, though I do love reading too. In terms of actually crafting a song there are few better than Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Paul Buchanan, James Taylor and Aimee Mann. One of my favourite pieces of writing of all time is the first verse of ‘4th of July’ by Aimee Mann actually. “Today’s the fourth of July Another June has gone by And when they light up our town I just think What a waste of gunpowder and sky” How incredible is that? Writers I love to read are Paul Auster, Glen Duncan, Joe R. Lansdale, Charles Bukowski, Albert Camus, J.D. Salinger and, if I feel like a thriller, A.J. Quinnell.
What other activities do you enjoy doing creatively, or recreationally outside of being a writer, and do you find any of these outside writing activities merge into your mind and often become parts of a poem? Steve: I like to paint though I wouldn’t have much of a clue of what I am doing. I really like the feel of the paint under the knife. I also played a lot of sport over the years which I would argue is a huge creative outlet, or at least it was for me. Trying to outthink an opponent or your opposition is a thrilling thing.
Tell us a little about your process with writing. Is it more a controlled or a spontaneous/ freewriting style? Steve: I’m not sure that I have a process at all. I think about writing only when I am writing. When I am not writing my mind is on other things. I am easily distracted and enjoy so many other things besides writing. I find that the less I think of writing the more likely it will be that a poem comes along. When one does I either write a quick skeleton of it on my phone or, if possible, I sit down at the laptop and get it down. I write quickly and try not to overthink things. If a poem takes longer than a half hour, I give up on it.
Are there any other people/environments/hometowns/vacations that has helped influence your writing? Steve: As I tend to write about what’s happening around me, I’d say that people, environments, hometowns and vacations play a massively important part in the writing. I would guess that the poems are roughly 80% non-fiction and 20% fiction.
What is the most rewarding part of the writing process, and in turn the most frustrating part of the writing process? Steve: The most rewarding part is the writing, absolutely the writing. It’s an amazing feeling, really. It’s often like teasing out a puzzle until it all suddenly clicks into place. But, the best times are when a poem comes along fully formed and it is written and finished in the time it takes to type it. That is almost impossibly exhilarating. I don’t understand at all how some people agonize over every word, how the act of writing is almost torturous. If it were not a joyful thing for me, I wouldn’t do it. The most frustrating part is probably the submitting but, really, I don’t mind that. I just throw on some music and bash them out.
How has this past year impacted you emotionally, how has it impacted you creatively if it all? Steve: This year has been such a tough year for so many people of course but, personally, I didn’t mind it. I like my own company so the isolation was grand. It was tough not being able to visit people but beyond that it was good, kind of refreshing in a way. I think it forced lots of people, myself included, to find the pure and simple joy in small things again which is great. Some poems came from it all of course and, while a lot of them were quite sad, I would say that the majority were upbeat.
Please give us any promotional info for your work, social media, blogs, publishing company info, etc that you’d like to shout out. Steve: I probably wouldn’t have as gigantic a presence as a lot of people on social media but here are a few links all the same: https://denehan.wixsite.com/website, https://twitter.com/SteverinoD and https://www.facebook.com/denehan Steve’s new poetry collection, ‘Days of Falling Flesh and Rising Moons’, published by The Golden Antelope Press is available online and can be ordered in all local bookshops.
His previous collection, ‘Miles of Sky Above Us, Miles of Earth Below’, published by Cajun Mutt Press and his chapbooks, ‘Living in the Core of an Apple’, published by Analog Submission Press and, ‘Of Thunder, Pearls and Birdsong’, published by Fowlpox Press, can be purchased by going to Steve’s website listed above.
*UPDATE* Steve will have a book coming out on Potter’s Grove Press in April “The Streets, Like Flowers, Come Alive in the Rain”