Photons by Peter Donnelly | poetry review

Photons, the first collection of poetry from Peter Donnelly, published by Appello Press is a process of exploration, a compilation of careful observations told in pensive, tantalising and often humorous ways.

The name of the book echoes strongly throughout; there are many references to the fragments which make up the human psyche, as well as glimpses of the everyday, captured over time and interspersed. I read each poem with intrigue, interpreting the poetry as an artist searching tentatively for words to evoke meaning and beauty, representing his own reflections. Each poem is carefully constructed and lovingly captures the human experience.

Donnelly is a student of literature, and has a fascination with the writings of James Joyce. This experimental style pervades much of the book, and is particularly evident in his poem ‘The Punmans’s Pints at Finnegans’:

The sound of Cassius’s

Bottle clinking with

Brutus’s in the Killiney air.

In this poem, I was drawn to the stark contrast between the surreal and the everyday, the dichotomy between the brash, jarring sounds and colours of the city meshing with nature and elements of dreamlike tranquillity.


Photons represents contemplation, viewed with great sensitivity and insight, an attempt to map out both the city and the natural landscape. Donnelly’s words and imagery have been caught and moulded, or to quote the author, they’ve been ‘crystallised’. The poem ‘Pavement Stars’ catches the essence of this crystallisation, describing fragments, pieces and particles, reflecting light:

Shards of broken glass

Hold bits of moonlight

In a little galaxy there

At the end of the night…

It is difficult to summarise such a rich variety of themes, a book of such texture. I found myself going back and discovering new and wonderful imagery, re-reading the words aloud in order to fully grasp the sensuality of the poetry, as well as the sense of movement, the mechanics, the references to space and light. The author has mixed old and new, humanity and nature, and a good example of this is in the poem ‘The Films We Watched’: And the widescreen television/Bulbing its slightly eerie light…’ He then depicts how this interacts or communes with nature: ‘Communing with the nocturnal elms /And the fatly trunked birch…’

Donnelly also observes the bleak changes in Dublin city as it departed from the Celtic Tiger in his poem ‘The Mixer’, in which he views the city as unfinished, and translates this into the way he interprets art:

Cranes still hang overhead

The Sun still endures a coma

Behind lumps of cloud,

So yes the building will be shaped

To the model of whatever…

The longest poem in this book, ‘Roadworks’, is a triumph. The author immerses his reader in the urban space, described as a ‘beast’. Donnelly portrays the city as having a ‘skin’ and ‘replacing its cells’; he gives life to his city, he portrays a living, breathing thing. ‘The rainwater which has been roped into the Nothingness just below the city’s Skin…’

Donnelly portrays the city’s movement and transience, its vitality. He emphasises change by painting the city through the changing seasons, and starts with one of my favourite lines in the poem, ‘Winter in the city: The Fallen rain/ tightens Into ice…’

This phrase is so well considered; winter takes hold of the city and grips onto the elements. There is also the portrayal of the leaves in Autumn: The rain plasters them like papier mâché onto the
Grey of the pavement…’

 The verse translation from La Divina Commedia is one of the most striking poems in the book. Donnelly chooses to make a translation of the tenth canto, capturing the exchange between Farinata and the poet:

He was already locked in my vision –

The prominent forehead and chest –

all Hell held in utter derision…

This collection portrays a sensitive and wonderful response to the poet’s surroundings. His sense of humour is mixed with profound and well considered reflections on the spectrum of human existence, glimpses of the historical, the mythological and the everyday. He has combined all of these diverse, erratic ideas into one organised, finished piece. This is an immense accomplishment given it is the author’s first published work. It displays a rigorous dedication to poetry and words.

This book is a polished attempt to find meaning in places and people as an ongoing exploration. In a recent interview with Headstuff, Donnelly explains how art is a work in progress: ‘I don’t think there’s such thing as a finished work of art – pieces are living, evolving organisms.’ This surely inspires great anticipation for further work from this poet.

Photons is available on Amazon UK/Ireland, USA, Germany, France, Italy and Spain. (RRP £9.99 / €11.99 / $16.99)