independent

Sunday 20 October 2019

Posthumous launch of Denis Collins' poetry

The late Denis Collins
The late Denis Collins
The collection of poems

Brendan Keane

In April this year the people of County Wexford were shocked by the sudden and unexpected passing of Denis Collins.

A proud Wexford man, he was a poet, activist, and genial gallery owner.

He was also renowned as a promoter of the creative arts in the Model County.

However, two of his good friends, artist Kevin Lewis, and filmmaker Philip Cullen, have compiled a book of selected poems composed by Denis and the collection, 'Gone For Coffee', will be officially launched in County Hall, Carricklawn, on Friday, October 4, at 7 p.m.

This newspaper met with Kevin and Philip to talk about the book and what it means to them personally that their friend is remembered in this way.

Kevin revealed that Denis has approached him with the idea of compiling a book together that would feature his art in accompaniment to Denis' poetry.

'He said he was compiling some poems about Wexford and thought it would be good to put some of them [artwork] to his poems,' said Kevin, who emphasised that the book is purely about the poems.

'This is about his poems,' he said.

'This is a book of Denis' poems and the artwork is only complimentary and secondary to that.'

At the time of his passing Denis had already selected 23 poems for inclusion in the book and after he died Philip heard about the idea and encouraged Kevin to complete the project.

However, the only poems that feature accompanying illustrations are the 23 that Denis himself chose.

'We just felt it was appropriate that they were the only ones with illustrations because Denis chose them and had an input into the art that would be used so the other poems are just his words only,' said Kevin.

There are 50 poems in the book and the title is a quirky reference to one of Denis' most common phrases.

'I'd call to see him almost every day and many times you'd go down and there'd be a little sign up saying 'gone for coffee',' said Kevin.

'For Denis everything was based around coffee,' he added.

From a personal perspective, as with so many creative people in Wexford, Denis Collins was instrumental in giving Kevin the confidence to display his work in public.

'He was the first person to give me a solo exhibition,' he said.

Lamentably, Denis never had a volume of his own exclusive work published during his lifetime although his work has featured in compilations.

'He compiled anthologies of other people's work and his own poems have appeared in other books but he never had one of his own books,' said Kevin.

Philip said Denis was someone who 'championed the art of everyone else' and of the forthcoming book commented: 'This is a celebration of his artistic side.'

'Denis was a great conversationalist and could talk about any subject,' said Kevin.

Meanwhile, Philip highlighted the fact that Denis always had time for people and always seemed to be able to chat.

'However, there always seemed to be coffee involved when you were chatting to him,' said Philip.

'Denis was very good at promoting people who did not push themselves very well,' he added.

The synergy between Denis and Kevin was based not just on their friendship but also on their shared love of Wexford.

Most of Kevin's work depicts scenes from the town while Denis' poetry also often featured topics and subject matter that anyone from the town could identify with.

However, some of the works in the book are very personal anecdotes and for Philip and Kevin getting the book published has been a true labour of love out of respect for their great friend whom they both miss immensely.

While its his art work that also features in the book Kevin was very emphatic about the contribution Philip made to ensuring the book idea became a reality.

'Only I can vouch for the hard work Philip did in bringing this book to fruition and his determination to see it become a reality,' he said.

'Without him it simply would not have happened.'

The launch itself will be very special with RTE broadcaster, Olivia O'Leary, being the main special guest.

She will be joined by some of Ireland's foremost poets including Margaret Galvin, Fintan Murphy and Mark Roper.

The launch will also feature music from Wexford musician, Justin Cullen, from Frankenstein Bolts.

'There will also be some traditional music as well,' said Philip.

It's very fitting that all facets of the creative arts will be incorporated into the launch as Denis Collins was an ambassador for all mediums of artistic endeavour.

Philip and Kevin acknowledged the support they have received from local people in Wexford and said the local authority, and in particular, Cllr Lisa McDonald, have been very enthusiastic and supportive of the idea.

The book, which is a hard-cover publication, is sure to attract a lot of attention from those within the arts scene not just in Wexford but across the south east.

'I hope that within its pages, together, we have done something of what [Denis] may have envisaged,' said Kevin.

'We hope it will serve as a fitting tribute to the memory of Denis, a true and caring friend.'

Wexford People

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