By Brian Docherty

Pleasures of the Damned
Pete Donohue has been a stalwart of the Hastings Creative Crew, and a regular presence at local poetry and spoken word events for longer than he cares to admit. This thirteen poem limited edition pamphlet is, as far as I know, Donohue’s first publication other than in magazines. Formally, these poems are indebted to the cult American poet Charles Bukowski. The similarities in style and tone are reflected in the pamphlet’s cover image, a drawing by Donohue himself, showing Tommy Two-Guns in action.

Published by York based small press ASP as one of their limited edition runs of only 25 handmade, hand numbered copies it sold out in the first few days. A second printing is now available direct from the publishers and at time of writing there were still a few copies of this left.

The title poem wastes no time in introducing the reader to the central fact of this character’s life:

         they called him tommy
         tommy two-guns
         because of this trick
         he did
         to impress
         his junkie friends

  the poem finishes

         because it wasn’t long
         the show
         was all over.

‘writing my will on the toilet’ does what it says on the tin (or can in this case) noting that ‘elvis died/like this’, while ‘waiting for paisa’ takes the reader to India, although the hippie dream so many indulged in during the 1960s and 70s is confronted by the aftermath of the Bhopal disaster perpetrated by Union Carbide :

        & reality
        kicked back in
        as blind
        by the chemistry
        of western
        big business
        boarded our train

Back in West London, the drinking and drug taking continued unabated; ‘i saw my moon’ concludes

        when darkness
        i downed
        another bottle.
‘speedball dance’ is an elegy for
        my drug buddy
        early morning compadre
        in drinking
        another one who
        from the face
        of the earth 

The attrition rate in these poems is high, although Donohue, like Bukowski, is a survivor, perhaps someone who has made Ian Dury’s journey from ‘sex and drugs and rock’n’roll’ to ‘I want to be straight and not deviate’ unlike ‘theresa’ where the narrator and a friend, ‘bombed /out of our heads’ gatecrash a party at Theresa’s house. We learn that ‘theresa was /an inspiration’ but also that

        her daughter 
found her dead
in the bath

In ‘the day to die’ we meet a woman who is another casualty waiting for exactly that. ‘venezuelan lilith’ is set in ‘a beach bar /in antigua’ and is a vignette of the sort of adventure tourists might have experienced on a 1970s Caribbean trip or vacation, while ‘scoring smack in the heat’ returns us to the back alleyways of contemporary Hastings during ‘this hottest afternoon since seventy-six’ and the poem finishes ‘in a matter of minutes they are both content’.

The final poem in this pamphlet, ‘damned pleasures’, a title referencing a Selected Poems of Bukowski, offers this advice

        always be late
        & never sober
to enjoy a houseparty
without embarrassment

and demonstrates the proper procedure for two people to enjoy a tin of peaches in syrup, before opening a bottle of tequila, then a herbal smoke

        irresistibly toxic
        rough tobacco
        opiated hash
        my gods only know
        which other poisons

Like everything else here, this is observed and recorded through ‘dead eyeballs’; Bukowski meets Christopher Isherwood’s camera eye from Goodbye To Berlin, another tale of decadence that ended badly. Assuming that these poems document Donohue’s personal experience and what he saw around him, and are not the work of our old friend, the unreliable narrator, he must have enjoyed the luck and constitution of Keith Richards.   

This pamphlet offers an unflinching portrait of a lifestyle that some may find unattractive, although admirers of Bukowski need not hesitate. It should be noted though, that these poems are only part of Donohue’s repertoire; anyone who has heard him perform will know that he also writes poems of political engagement, as well as more uplifting work, including some very fine love poems.

A second pamphlet, featuring a selection of these poems would be appreciated, while a full collection of all three tendencies in Donohue’s poetry would make a very good book indeed. In the meantime, this introduction to a poet who needs no introduction to poetry lovers in the Hastings area is available at £3 + postage from:

Brian Docherty’s poetry collections In My Dreams, Again (Penniless Press, 2017) and
Only in St. Leonards : A Year on the Marina (Special Sorts Press, 2017)  are available from Bookbusters in Hastings and The Bookkeeper in St Leonards.

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