Thursday 1 April 2021

Review by Vic Pickup of "The Streets, Like Flowers, Come Alive in the Rain" by Steve Denehan

'Where has Steve Denehan been all my life?' is what I said when I finished The Streets, Like Flowers, Come Alive in the Rain (much to my husband’s disdain).  

Like all good literary love affairs, he had me at 'hello,' with his description of a minor traffic incident in 'A Rainy Night on Wexford Street, Dublin.' I was instantly struck by the freshness of his observation, stark and simple:

          I sit in a Dublin café amongst other stragglers
          it is cold
          it is rainy
          condensation beads on the windowpane
          droplets snake down and puddle on the tabletop

Writing in first-person present tense, the poet overlays each minute action as it occurs, bringing his reader into the scene on the page. 

Steve (I’ve decided we’re on first-name terms) finds meaning in his surroundings: strangers, children, colleagues, family, everyday interactions - he is a magnifier of the things that go unnoticed. There is often a brief moment captured and bottled in his poetry; always accessible, always approaching the small and big stuff of life with good humour. 

Indeed, there were moments of laugh-out-loud in this collection, as in 'Little Girl in a Hotel Bar,' who, after a three-page build up 'took a breath / closed her eyes / started to play / and frankly / she wasn’t that great.' His writing often links comedy with epiphany, and in doing so, is constantly surprising. 

I also admire the simplicity of his approach to punctuation. The poet’s clever use of line breaks to punctuate a story shows how it should be read without the clutter of commas and speech marks, thus staying true to his style.

Steve draws you in close, which is part of his appeal. At times you feel you could be sat in a café or having a yarn in a pub and all you can do is listen close and not miss a word. This is the case in 'A phone call from Morgan Freeman on Christmas Eve' which, at seven pages, keeps you hanging on in there, supping your imaginary pint (or latte), wanting to hear how the story goes. 

Many of the poems are anecdotal. Some could be tightened, but in doing so we’d lose our dialogue, our conversation with the narrator. The story isn’t just about the poems, it’s about the poet’s likeability and the relationship he forms with his reader by bringing his own style and character to the poems. 

Even seemingly idle thoughts have a lesson for us, as in 'Wouldn’t it Be Nice':

          The Beach Boys thought
          It would be nice
          If they were older
          then they wouldn’t have to wait so long 
          we all know what’s gone before
          we surely know what’s coming
          and still 
          we waste
          the space

There’s wisdom in many of Steve’s poems; a beautiful example is in 'U-turn':

          good is temporary
          bad is temporary
          everything in between is temporary
          every silver lining has a cloud
          and summer hides in every snowflake

Alongside such philosophies, the poet will charm the socks off you with tenderness, as in 'Tenacious D, February 10th 2020' where, along with his daughter, he takes the memory of his father who is 'at home / fading, gently.' This focus on family, love and fragility and is a common theme in this collection, but still, not what you expect at a Tenacious D concert (no offence, Jack Black). 

This collection is the ideal companion as we unwind out of Covid – there is sincerity, humour and integrity in the poet’s search for meaning in the everyday. This is a book about recognition; Steve’s perfected the knack of making it easy for the reader to fall in love. 

I’ll leave you with a stanza from 'Thousand-Thread-Count-Sheets' which resonated deeply:

          for those of us that remain
          the billions
          we will need to find our fears
          grab them
          shake and roar at them
          until they are broken, twitching things
          then find each other
          and give all we have left

About the reviewer
Vic Pickup is a previous winner of the Café Writers and Cupid’s Arrow Competitions, and shortlisted for the National Poetry Day #speakyourtruth prize on YouTube. Lost & Found is Vic’s debut pamphlet, published by Hedgehog Poetry Press and featuring Pushcart-nominated poem ‘Social Distancing.’ @vicpickup /

You can read a review of Lost & Found on Everybody's Reviewing here.

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