Category Archives: Featured Poets

Dónall Dempsey: the Fox, the Whale and the Wardrobe

Donall Dempsey


The Fox, the Whale and the Wardrobe

In Dónall Dempsey’s most recent collection, The Fox, the Whale and the Wardrobe, published on 1st March 2023, he continues to explore themes of time and memory in poems that are playful, emotive, absurd, surreal, funny and moving. Mining the rich resources of his Irish childhood, he introduces us to an uncle whose tales to nine-year-old Dónall cause an aunt to scold the adult for ‘filling the boy’s head with nonsense’, and with a little girl who constantly surprises and delights us with her discovery of meanings in life we have all but forgotten. The sorrow of loss is here, too: long-term personal grief since his beloved sister died when he was still a child, as well as the more recent deaths of his parents and younger brother, and the memories, happy and sad, of people he has met at the end of their lives. A film-noir enthusiast, in this collection he also unreels surreal narratives after gangster movies and murder mysteries. A child of rural Ireland, he gives voices to trees, rivers and stones and accesses their knowledge of time and the universe. And always his poems ring with his own joy in living and his vivid poetic imagination.


Adèle Ward comments; ‘Dempsey is a master of the short, unpunctuated line that draws us into his world step-by-step, and it’s a place where we want to be immersed. A library returns to the woodland the books and furniture are made of, so that we stand among trees. Beloved relatives are conjured up from what remains, perhaps no more than an inherited hat. Although minimalist, these poems reach into the deepest subjects, taking us to a future where birds remain to recall how humans caused their own extinction. Through it all, darkness and light are woven together with deft magic.’


Donall Dempsey: Eight Poems from The Fox, the Whale and the Wardrobe

donall book


I opened up
the nothingness

and there it was
. . .1956

only half way through
its journey

I thought: ‘Hey
this was a good place

to be born in’
the world opening up

to me and I
was mad about it

it had sky
and waves

and birds
as such

I just loved it
at first

couldn’t get
enough of it

but the years
stripped me of my innocence

and before I knew it
it was time

to go back
into the nothingness

I never could
get along with Time

it was always
bossing my mind around

but would I do it
again given half a chance

you can bet my life
I would


unable to read
I looked up
at my Dad

telling me stories
till the light
grew dark

new stories
bright and shiny
cobwebs on a dewy morning

old stories
round and worn
familiar in their telling

told and told
a bell in a cold crisp evening

able to read
(somewhat now)
I look up to my Dad

the best book
ever had

for Shyam

the civilisation of the birds
will prevail
and they will tell their eggs

stories about how
the humans
nearly destroyed the earth

and how now they only survive
in the stories that birds tell
to frighten their little hatchlings

who don’t really believe
that such creatures
could ever have existed.

Buildings left to themselves
as if humans
had never been invented

nature reclaims
its domains
the animals return

a dinosaur takes
the moving stairs
a pterodactyl hunts for bargains


she dismantled her smile
tucked it away
in a golden compact mirror

she said nothing
she didn’t have to
say anything

I stood there
as if sculpted
out of silence

she turned
her back on me
it was a very pretty back

I felt I was
living in
a Philip Marlowe novel

now she was
only her high heels
clicking on the marble

I didn’t stop
to see her

and then
there was
no her anymore

only her perfume
creating the shape
of her in the air

‘Damn!’ I said
to no one
and again ‘Damn!’

my own words
laughing at me
in an echo


this one perfect moment
time rearing up like a wave
that never ever breaks

the train’s scream
the dog’s bark
chiselled into the silence

dancing to
the bandstand’s music
a flock of flags

writing themselves…unwriting themselves
across a page of sky

this moment
flees from time
claims sanctuary in my mind


The torrential rain of
55 BC

falls outside
Catullus’ window.

Here in AD 2020
the same rain falls for me.

Catullus rubs his lazy eye
as do I.

His then and my now
almost one and the same.

Only the torrent of time
that falls as rain

separates us
each from the other.

‘Vivamus…atque amemus!’
he tells his rain.

‘We should live…we should love!’
I tell mine.

His father is entertaining Caesar
whose voice not even the rain

can curtail
the tales he tells

about long-haired Gauls
blue Britons.

The finest Falernian flows freely
from cup to cup.

Slaves clatter plates away
almost fall over a frolicsome pup.

But now sleep takes me prisoner.
Catullus’ bedspread falls to the floor.

And in that instant
we both catch a glimpse

of the other
time falling like rain.


a stone angel
raises her eyes
to a Heaven

hands held
in supplication
wishing for a sign

snowflakes fall
upon her eyes
that cannot see

snow resting
in her palms

until she has a snowball
in either hand
wears a cap of snow

God’s idea
of a joke
I guess

to make
the dead laugh

‘Go on throw it!’
I tell her and
…she lets Him have it


no God just
the sweet rain blesses me
with its own good self

a robin
that he’s my prayer

the miracle of sunlight
with a kitten

wind sings
in a choir
of trees

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