Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

HOT - Pete Donohue-600pixWriters in Hastings & St Leonards: Pete Donohue, poet (plus literary events from 26 Nov 2019)

Pete Donohue is a poet, short story writer, cartoonist and literary editor of The Hastings Independent Press. He talks to Angela J. Phillip about his life and work and what brought him to Hastings.

Q1 Hello Pete. Thank you for agreeing to do this interview. Can you say a little about your beginnings and how you came to live and work in Hastings?

I was born by the sea in Cobh, County Cork, Ireland, moving to London when I was eighteen-months old at the end of 1958, so it seems somehow inevitable that one day I would be drawn back to a coastal town somewhere. My first visit to Hastings was in spring of 1987 when friends from London moved here and I loved it instantly. By July that year I had moved down here myself.

I was ready to get out of the big city by then and leave behind some of the stresses and craziness of my lifestyle there. It was also extremely polluted where I lived in W14 (and is even worse now of course) and I wanted to breathe some fresher air. Apart from the wonderful geography of Hastings and its surrounds, I thought the people were great, both those born and bred locally and some of the recent or longer-term ‘blow-ins’ like myself.

Hastings from the East Hill by Paul Way-Rider

Hastings from the East Hill by Paul Way-Rider

As a DFL (Down From London) of some thirty-two years now I’ve been here over half my life and I still love it just as much. It was easy to make new friends and be accepted into the community so long as you were prepared to get involved with the town and not just take all the best bits without putting anything back.

I trained in London as a youth and community worker, always working in challenging circumstances with troubled young people, and eventually I got back into that in Hastings, having spent my first three years here surviving as a musician, writer and free-lance cartoonist. When I had children I wanted a steadier income and now I work in the field of mental health and learning disabilities in order to pay the bills, although I’ve never stopped writing and performing.

The creative scene here is massive for the size of the town and that was a big draw for me. I always smile when I hear newly-arrived folk talk about an emerging arts scene or say things like ‘Hastings is fast becoming an important creative hub.’  It’s as if they think they are the first to discover the unique energies of this town but for years, and long before I arrived here, Hastings and St Leonards has attracted creatives of all disciplines. There’s a lot of warmth and community spirit here too and that’s important to me.

Q 2 You have been instrumental in the newspaper The Hastings Independent Press. Would you like to say a little about that?

A friend picked up Issue 2 of HIP, at the time a slim eight pages of alternative local news, comment and arts and I thought it was great. I went to an editorial meeting at The Tubman pub (since closed) and got involved straight away. I loved the ethos and the fact that a bunch of passionate locals with no experience or money could as a collective of volunteers put out a free fortnightly community newspaper and instantly challenge the mainstream press. 

My first contribution was a poem in Issue 3 and in Issue 4 I started devising the five-clue cryptic crossword (which I still do almost 140 issues later). As HIP has evolved over the years (it’s now 24 pages) I’ve written pieces for every section other than Business, and contributed photographs, illustrations, satirical cartoons, reviews, short stories and, of course, plenty of poetry. I also helped with distribution but have recently handed that over as I’m too busy with other creative projects these days.

I’ve been the Literature Editor ever since we created that 2-page section four years ago. Although it takes a lot of voluntary time I love putting it all together each issue and particularly meeting and working with so many great local writers. As with HIP in general, new people get involved all the time, so for all of us it’s a rich source of new acquaintances and sometimes close friendships.

scream before they kill your poetry by Pete Donohue

scream before they kill your poetry by Pete Donohue

Q3 I think that you are first and foremost a poet. When did you start writing poetry – and why? Do you write short stories and novels, too?

Since primary school I’ve always written poems, song lyrics and stories, sometimes illustrating them too. The reason I write poetry is because I can’t help myself – it’s a function of my personality that just won’t go away. There’s a lot of ‘stuff’ constantly churning away inside my head and I think poetry, songwriting and creative writing in general is a good way of organising those thoughts and their accompanying emotions. Self-expression is part of the human condition and this is my way of doing it.

These days I prefer doing performance poetry to music gigs because I always felt frustrated responding to demands for cover songs rather than my own original material. With poetry I find an audience is much more open to listening to fresh, new, and sometimes spontaneous, work. I love hosting Sheer Poetry, our monthly open mic at local independent bookshop Bookbusters and perform at various other events, both locally and further afield, as they come up.

And yes, I do write novels and short stories too. A novel has yet to be released into the ether but I have plenty of short stories out there, published in numerous litzines and anthologies by alternative and underground presses both in Europe and the US. I’m currently working on a full collection of these, some previously published, others not.

poems for tommy two guns by Pete Donohue

poems for tommy two guns by Pete Donohue

Q4 Someone said that art comes from pain. Do you agree with that?

Absolutely. Not only from pain, pleasure too, but painful experiences, both personal and empathic, have inspired a lot of poetry and prose writing from me over the years – and, dare I say, some of my best writing. A lot of my work could be considered quite dark, and that may be as a result of having a fairly troubled childhood and teenage. I won’t go into unnecessary detail here but I’ve seen violence and abuse, lost family members to mental health issues and far too many friends to drugs and alcohol. I should add that I’ve also written plenty of celebratory and love poems and am not averse to a spot of lyricism when in the right mood.

poetry is feathers by Pete Donohue

poetry is feathers by Pete Donohue

Q5 Can you say a little about your latest collection poetry is feathers?

poetry is feathers is my latest published chapbook and the second one put out by Analog Submission Press, based in York UK and Cape Town SA. It contains a mixture of my constant wonder at how happy and fortunate I feel in my current personal life and how tough the simple act of survival can be for some – and not all of those make it through. There are autobiographical pieces in there which pull no punches, but I like to think without bitterness or regret, and I hope readers can recognise the underlying themes of hope and lessons learned for the future.

Amongst the poems you can find one of my short stories – which I write as pieces of prose poetry really – and this one addresses the abuse of societal power throughout history, by following the progress of a ‘dark wet dreamer…(who)…will pursue his egregious urges with weinsteinian megalomania.’ This chapbook is a limited numbered edition print run but there may be a few copies left – £4 +p&p direct from the publisher:  

Q6 Who are your favourite poets and how have they influenced your writing?

My favourite poets, like my butterfly daydreaming mind, change all the time but there are some obvious constants. Yeats, Milton, Coleridge and Shakespeare all played their part in my formative years and instilled a love of words, but halfway through teenage it became all about the beat poets, and in early adulthood the inimitable Charles Bukowski. I’d cite John Cooper Clarke, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Benjamin Zephaniah as inspirations also and more recently Kate Tempest. A lot of my favourite songwriters I consider to be poets too, Dylan obviously, but even more so, Van Morrison, Tom Waits, Joe Strummer and Nick Cave. What I take from all of these influences, and more, is to keep it raw and keep it real.

beer and loathing by Pete Donohue

beer & loathing by Pete Donohue

q7 Which of your poems do you love best and why?

As for my best loved poem that’s a really tricky one – it’s usually the one I’ve just written or am still working on. If I try and think of a poem that I never grow tired of performing then it would probably be the one below. Unusually for me it’s written in rhyming couplets – I very rarely use rhyme in poetry but here I think it suits the mood. To some it might sound like a bit of a grim story (of course it’s all true) but I read and experience it as a poem of joyful rebellion and the celebration of a life well-lived despite continual adversity – inspiration for us all I hope:

Lisa Donohue

Lisa Donohue (1959-1988)

dead sister
(her name is lisa)

dead sister dead sister
you were a paranoid schitzo-
phrenic frantic
all in a panic
aeroplanes spoke their words to you
angels lived in the morning dew
you held a knife to other’s throats
slept beneath a dozen coats
god i miss your lovely teeth
grinning out bare-faced cheek

dead sister dead sister
swirl this world a crazy twister
uncrowned queen of naughtiness
fuck them over with gypsy finesse
that cruel poker of daddy brass
left its ignorant peat bog marks
regularly tanned your arse
tattooed your itching lilywhite calves
with brutal welts and cruel scars
as you just laughed & laughed & laughed

dead sister dead sister
born at the piss-poor end of the fifties
head swollen with hydrocephalus
given no more than six months left to live
ripped from the innocent by impatient midwife
with forceps patches of baldness each side
and yet you proved those bastards wrong
surviving survival getting along
through school where they called you noddy and said
her body’s not big enough to support her head

dead sister dead sister
painful and incessant blister
spilling out ideas like puss
to educate the likes of us
in living through those bells of hell
where sounds inhabit empty shells
and you live in the here and now
with laugh lines underneath that frown
beholden to your crazy thoughts
much more real than ours

dead sister dead sister
every night i hear you whisper
thirty years ago you died
only twenty-eight years of age
ribs exploding from their cage
heartbeats drowning in its rage
all five stones of you sinking sinking
no more dry martini drinking
no more rotten shit-stain stinking
and none of your teeth fell out

dead sister dead sister
a week before your death i visited
you in that home in tonbridge hells
where we thought you’d die that night
your breathing shallow skin marsh-mallow
i bunkered down on your bedside carpet
only to be woken in the darkness
with that howling guy upon my back
rubbing his cock like a mischievous dog
you would have laughed so much at that

dead sister dead sister
when you died i went to kiss your
purple corpse in crystal palace
laid out like a holy chalice
and then it was st patrick’s day
and i’d already said i’d play
at the irish pub on the roundabout corner
to raise funds for you and fellow mourners
where tears were rusting my guitar strings
and money flowed in fountains of guinness

dead sister dead sister
one day we will all be history
remember the fun we had as kids
free from reins of dysfunctional minders
touring london on a red rover bus pass
all of us adults below double figures
ten eight seven barely five
experiencing intensities of being alive
until it went wrong big time bad time
and then you died.

Thank you, Pete for all of this. May your poems, your drawings and all your work continue to flourish.

for more details, please see:
Pete Donohue, poet and literature editor at Hastings Independent Press
New Poetry from HIPs Pete Donohue
Contact details: Facebook: Pete Donohue; Twitter: @petedonohuepoet; Instagram: petedonohuepoet; email:

Bookshops & Events

Bookbuster 39 Queens Rd, Hastings
Buddha Triangle Bookbuster Crimbo Banger
Saturday 14 December 6 – 8 pm hosted by Buddha Triangle & Bookbuster
Go to Bookbuster’s Facebook page to see more.

Printed Matter Bookshop 185 Queens Rd, Hastings TN34 1RG
Jan 2020: Book launch of Paul Anderson’s Suedeheads & film screening of Horace Ove’s ‘Reggae 1970’ at The Electric Palace Cinema, Old Town.
Please see Facebook page for details of other events.

The Bookkeeper Bookshop 1a Kings Rd, St Leonards
Come and look at the Bookkeeper Bookshop Facebook page to see more.

The Hare & Hawthorn Bookshop 
51 George St, Hastings Old Town
For more information see the Hare & Hawthorn Facebook page.

National Novel Writing Month is coming to a close (but some aspects of it go on throughout the year). You can still sign up with this link – it’s free and has all kinds of useful resources for writers. Nanowrimo

Well, folks, another weeks has passed. I hope that it has brought good things for you all and that your projects are thriving, finishing and starting.

For an update on my writing life, please see: Plot Thickening.

For a selection of other posts on my writing journey, please see

Comments and suggestions are always welcome and you can email me at

Thanks for reading and happy writing.

Angela J. Phillip

images thanks to Pete Donohue & Paul Way-Rider


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Posted 09:00 Tuesday, Nov 26, 2019 In: Hastings Bookchat

Also in: Hastings Bookchat

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