Climbing up Bukhansan Instead of Just Going Around It
I believe you had a headscarf tied around shaved skull
when you looked across the low table on that high hill
where the Buddha was carved into a cliff that will linger
longer than the rest of us. Patterned headscarf perhaps,
just above the considered concentration of your hands
turning round the lever of a coffee grinder on your knee
but honestly, I do not think about your head or its skull
or the coloured pattern of your scarf when I remember
you here, scrambling my way through the parts of Paris
I cannot break down into smaller, more soluble pieces
to be able to contain it, like you had contained my gaze,
that in turn contained a million questions I’d asked you
and you answered in a language I have yet to learn but
already label as treasure. I do remember how your eyes
shone like the star of a gentle iris I painted once while
trying to understand the strokes of Van Gogh before
I realised that the brush carries onto canvas much more
than just a shot of colour. I recall the iris of your eyes,
back in Paris, where les Etoiles is just a metro station
that too many cars just go round and round and round.
That Snarl amid All the Goddesses
My sister has two birthdays, born from one woman to give to another, separated by religion and the cynical snarl of a nun that my mother can never forget.
My mother gave her up before she met my father and discovered his infertility. I came later, restoring a semblance of sanity for a while, until he found that same snarl.
My real mother is a goddess, of course. Identity is easy to construct when you haven’t a single clue and only have one birthday.
Treasure in the Chest
In a small wooden trunk, now roughened and rusty but too rare to disregard, bought one rainy Sunday after a ferry ride to the north of the Dam, I keep the treasured beer mats we wrote numbers on, your name pressed permanently with pen and potential into the round card.
I sometimes run my fingers over your letters to remember what it was like to feel that alive.
You are soft shadow, now, in a room of light where men lean in, a blinding light of lust and longing and then you; this soft suggestion in the shadow. And then, at times, you are light when all else is drowned out in darkness and touch not to be trusted but for you; a ray of reassuring remembrance, alight in the distance.
I kissed other lips, Dutch lips, below a head of oblivious blond hair, once, as you sat across from me watching, as if to show you that I too could devour someone else while still wanting, still watching, still running thoughts over that imprint of passed potential.
You are there, have been here, I’ve been told; smiling, laughing, walking towards the centre when I’ve already taken to the road, though you too are taken, were taken, even, back then; not mine, not ours, not even minutes.
In a small wooden box, now roughened and rusty, memory has no attachment to time and possibility no tie to the destiny we cannot draw.
Feet swing above a blue tiled wall of a piscine / sans l’eau as if the world has cried up all the water on the planet.
I rest my head on your shoulder and you lean in /to my support as if we were both armbands to each other.
Somewhere behind a day I made into a memory / in my mind you fake swim in that pool of dried tile / cracked sunshine
and our laughter reverberates between the stain at the bottom and the gulls flying overhead / in circling sways
in case we chose to be bait for their beak.
Behind us / a taxi rides away / and we are left to decipher how life drowned in that place / sans rêve.
Sometimes we sleep to dream / other times we slip our feet into the emptiness / to dream of what we might have found
in its place.
Feet swing above a blue tiled wall of a piscine / sans l’eau et on ferme les yeux / to lean into that which isn’t really there.
At Least in a Cup of Coffee We can Hold a Caramel of Comfort
In the kitchen / breaking noise before dawn you grind grains into something more sippable, stilled / under a shadow of something unsettling,
I shift position / too naturally / while still snoozing, setting my sleeping skin into that soft spot your body has since shed
as your tongue lets the caramel of coffee tingle across taste buds / slowly changing
in that kitchen / swallowing simple warm things in the morning / before day comes to choke us.
Knowing how Long to Leave Wool in the Water
Spring has left us shy.
We flirted like sheep / cute / clumsy constantly caught before coming / folding a season into forever.
Words come / cumbersome you can only swallow so much of a wave of seductive / before you drown.
Sheep don’t swim / wool doesn’t do well in hot water. Be careful with the laundry.
Spring has left us shy.
We never unfolded another season / no more flock to the flirt, you do / or you die / the tide isn’t ours to play with.
Sink / swim / shrink /drown / and I was never good at lengths length of time / length of hold / length of hope.
Sheep need a shepherd / or get washed away.
The Dissolving of Emptiness
I lay down this lake of loss / hope for soil to soak up sorrow, by side sedge / wedge myself up / all this waste, bury what turned base at the bottom / this bed no longer silken sheets / but sludge / to be swept
under / asunder
I lay down this lake / this lough of loss / lost, waiting for the tide to wash over /the emptiness to dissolve, waiting for time to refine me / re-find me as buoyant
Please describe your latest book, what about your book will intrigue the readers the most, and what is the theme/mood?
Damien: There is certainly a flow of connecting colours throughout the collection; rickety reds, shades of blue, scarlet rising, grazing greens, purples clouds and cerulean skies. I like painting as a pastime so that often trickles out through the pen. I love wandering around galleries to see the tales painters captured on canvases and wondering how to capture them onto pages. Black is only shadow is a line that comes up more than once in the collection and I think that is where its identity lies, an acceptance of the darkness and a hope that it will not be forever, a line chanted like a mantra to get through to the next burst of light. The collection is not necessarily about easy moments in life but I hope the reader can appreciate the rise after each fall.
2. What frame of mind and ideas lead to you writing your current book?
Damien: I had my first panic attack a few years ago and many of the poems in this book stem from that, looking for ways of remaining light and bright and bouncy while accepting, concurrently, that state of anxiety, fear and sometimes loss. I was searching for balance, we cannot always remove the darkness or the weight or the panic and so I wanted to find a way to hold both at the same time so there was not always a fight between the two but an acknowledgement of each other.
3. How old were you when you first have become serious about your writing, do you feel your work is always adapting?
Damien: I wrote when I was a kid, a cathartic release before I knew there were people called therapists. But I had a dream of being a fashion designer from a young age and therefore the attention was always focused on a degree in fashion and a life in the industry which overshadowed the writing, even though it was always there. When I moved from London to Amsterdam in 2006, I began to focus more on writing and that was when I started my blog deuxiemepeaupoetry.com, a combination of poetry and photography. I think there was something about the ease of life in Amsterdam that made it possible to do more than one thing in a day, London, for me, was far too demanding for that. A few years later, my grandmother passed away and I was asked to write and deliver her eulogy and that was the first time I saw people really listening to what I had to say and relating to it and from that moment it changed, as if she instilled in me a confidence that this was something to be explored and needed time to develop. Looking back now at notebooks from childhood and even early poems on my blog, my style has changed completely. I started off by telling whole stories and have now fine tuned that into telling a story, not the whole, not always the complete truth, but exploring their essence.
4. What authors, poets, musicians have helped shape your work, or who do you find yourself being drawn to the most?
Damien: When I was 23, I lived for a year in a one bedroomed, viewless-windowed apartment in Le Marais in Paris with an Irish girl who played piano and Irish drinking songs in bars around the city but late at night, or after Sunday strolls through the Jewish quarter and lugging home sugar-laden treats from the bakeries on rue des Rosiers, she would play me her favourite Joni Mitchell songs before we put the album Miles of Aisles on repeat on our little Cd player. Later it became the Tin Angel and Blue albums on my Walkman, sitting at the table after coming home from work at the bar at 3am, playing Solitaire and listening to her paint words over cords, about living in places and missing others, kissing men and moving on. The influence from Joni has never strayed.
5. 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?
Damien: Photography is something I love. I can take over 100 photos a day, just trying to capture things that might get overlooked, a twig on a lump of concrete, a bag in a tree, a shell sinking back into the sand. I also use those photos a reference points later when writing, the visual falling into the structured lines of a poem. Painting is also something I enjoy though it takes much more time but it is the same thing as writing, taking a blank page or canvas and putting a mark down onto it and following the flow of that first mark. Cooking or baking are the things I do as much as writing because I find it so relaxing; hours, days spent in the kitchen is a dream for me, listening to music or a podcast and smelling the flavours come to life is incredible. And then there is the eating.
6. Tell us a little about your process with writing. Is it more a controlled or a spontaneous/freewriting style?
Damien: I write every day, whenever I can. When I lived in Paris it was on the way to work on the metro, during lunch breaks, at night on terraces of cafes, always in between the job or the duty or the relationship. Now I write constantly, all day. The earlier part of this year was very much taken up with a fictional novel I am now sending out to publishers. During the first lockdown in Ireland, which began in March, just before our famous cancelled Saint Patrick’s Day, I had two main focuses- the garden and its 45 trees that needed chopping with an old rusty hand saw and poetry prompts on Twitter from both the Cobh Readers and Writers group and Catherine Ann Cullen, an Irish Poet, who ran a daily poetry prompt, the pair of which resulted in me writing over 300 poems in about 4 months, after which I focused on the next collection which will be a full poetry collection about my life spent living with Paris, a combination of poetry and photography. So it really never stops. My phone is never far from my hand to scribble down lines that come into my head that will be worked on later, I am very forgetful so never like to lose a thought that might become a treasure.
7. Are there any other people/environments/hometowns/vacations that has helped influence your writing?
Damien: Paris definitely, I moved there when I was 22 and it changed who I was, suddenly I was completely alone for the first time in my life, in a larger-than-life city, a formerly shy child who’d never studied a word of French. I grew up there and so it will always have a huge influence on my identity, my life and my writing. Now that I have returned to Ireland, this little island has become the influencer. In earlier days, I spent so much time trying to get away from this place and the shy child it still wanted to identify within me but now, coming back after 23 years, it is a foreign object and I am enjoying examining all her sides while she accepts me now for who I became and has given up looking for the shadows of my former self. Family come in and out, of course, in terms of influence, I recently had a short story in the No.1 Irish bestseller A Page from My Life, an anthology of short stories published by Harper Collins Ireland and my story was about my Mother’s first experience in shopping at the supermarket chain Aldi. It was a comedy piece which made it a welcome change from the more serious tone of most of my poetry. And then there is always the constant rise and fall of relationships which ignites the pen. I write a lot about love and all that lies in between beginnings and endings. Torture can be exquisite, on the page, at least
8. What is the most rewarding part of the writing process, and in turn the most frustrating part of the writing process?
Damien: For me it’s that sense of achievement, when you find the right words, the right order, the right atmosphere and you read it back and it pops and you just want to jump up and say yes- I did it. The most frustrating? Having to do it all over again.
9. How has this past year impacted you emotionally, how has it impacted you creatively if it all?
Damien: I have never written so much as I have this year. As I mentioned I wrote over 300 poems during the first lockdown thanks to Poetry Prompts on Twitter while also editing my novel. I moved back to Ireland with a dream of setting up a writer’s retreat on the west coast but, at first, I said I’d stay at the family home for a few months to make up for being away for so long. Then Covid hit and it is now one year later and I’m still in that family home on the east side of Ireland. I think I’ve left this village about 6 times in the past 9 months. It has been an extremely strange year from being basically housebound, which is not normally in my comfort zone, to also being a non-stop year of writing, being published, winning writing competitions, starting a podcast and interviewing other poets as part of a series on my blog. I was given the rare opportunity this year to focus solely on writing and am thankful that I will not look back at this year as a wasted opportunity
10. Please give us any promotional info for your work, social media, blogs, publishing company info, etc that you’d like to shout out.
When did you get the idea to start the “Eat the Storms Podcast”?
Damien: I first came up with the idea of the podcast as it came close to the launch of my collection and I realized that because of lockdown restrictions I would not be able to have a normal book launch in a library or a bookstore and there would be no interaction with people. The focus would have to all take place on social media platforms and I was already on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and had a pretty good following but I wanted to find more ways to get my voice out. I started by using TikTok to make short video poems and then someone suggested a podcast but I was worried about setting it all up on my own as I’m not the most technologically minded person even though I’ve used computers for 25 years in terms of creating patterns for clothes but then I discovered the app and podcast platform Anchor which let you produce your own podcast and it was so simple and easy that by the next evening I had the first episode already recorded with jingles and introductions and pauses. It started as a platform just to share poems from my debut collection Eat the Storms, but that changed immediately as I realised everyone was in the same boat, all looking for outlets to be heard and so I opened the show up to have guest poets each week and it had taken off from there and it is showing no signs of slowing down as the audience is picking up more listeners each week so I am very happy to say that I was able to offer connection in a time when we were being told to stay away.
2. What have you found most interesting in the poets that you have interviewed? Are you ever surprised by what the poets have to say when on the podcast?
Damien: For me, personally, I think the most interesting thing about the podcast and having guests on is hearing poems that I know I’ve already read myself, read to me by their author and hearing their original idea instead of my understanding because of the tone of their voice, or a giggle or a pause when perhaps I had missed that moment of stillness that was so vital to how the poem would be. When you hear a poet read their words I think that brings us to a whole other level of understanding
3. How do you scout out a poet to have on your own show?
Damien: Sometimes I have themed episodes which makes it easier to put the content of the show together, like the LGBTQ+ episode that recently went down a storm or the Irish episode I am currently planning. At other times it’s just a question of who’s in my line of sight, who’s the most popular name of the day on Twitter that I happened to hear of, who were the people that I dreamed of taking part and so I just drop them a little message and cross my fingers. Sometimes, with age comes bravery
4.Where can one find episodes of “Eat the Storms”?
Damien: At the moment Eat the Storms, the poetry podcast, is on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Breaker, Pocketcasts and of course Anchor. A new episode drops every Saturday around 5pm but all the shows are there to listen to whenever life needs to be a little more poetic
5.Who helps you with the promotional vignettes for the show? I feel like I’m about to go into a “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” style show, but with the souls of poets instead of Rich people’s homes.
Damien: The promotional vignettes for this show are all homemade, its me with my camera positioned somewhere halfway into the sand and resting against a shell while I walk across the beach or me with a tiny tripod because I don’t want to look too much like an idiot or in the garden, or a field or down a country lane or me and the back bedroom here in the family cottage that has been home to my family since 1904. I don’t have any extra help, I’m a fumbling, giggling one man show trying to figure it all out and occasionally calling on the 80-year-old mother to focus the camera.