Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Lines on growing older and mortality from angry old man Durcan

Clever of Paul Durcan to set the opening poem of his latest collection in Dublin's leading bookstore.

On Glimpsing A Woman In Hodges Figgis Bookshop in Dublin, is a typically bravura piece of Durcanese involving a mysterious woman author signing her books "with such concentrated flourishes as if the book was the book of Kells" provoking the poet's admiration and envy. It's an early shaft of light in a collection that is not afraid to face the darkness of encroaching mortality.

This is a book punctuated by in memoriams, often mournful as for Nuala O'Faolain or John Moriarty, sometimes delightful, as in the beautiful short poem dedicated to his aunt Maureen Durcan.

The poet's own mortality is addressed as well, never more baldly than in Thinking About Suicide where his brutal honesty is sometimes lacerating, "Estranged from my family/ if I do not take my own life/others will take it from me".

But Durcan not being given to slim volumes, or indeed snappy titles, ranges far and wide.

The book is part travelogue, taking in Australia with an expert piece of mimicry in 'owwombs Father's Day' and a section set in Paris where the ghosts of Charles Baudelaire and Vincent van Gogh make their presence felt among the detritus of the poet's habitual women troubles ... "she seethed and spittle scoured/every man ought to adore me/but you ... monsieur le poete ... you failed to give me ... the obeisance that is my due" (Petit Dejeuner With Breda).

All this is handled with an air of self-deprecating humour that leavens any sense of tragedy.

If sometimes the wandering, conversational style threatens to become prosaic, Durcan's gift for making an epic out of a mere observation comes to his rescue in poems such as Woman Lying On A Wall and Mother And Child; Merrion Square West.

For running beneath all is a righteous anger that comes from a heterodox but intense Catholicism based on social justice.

It's an anger Durcan has used in the past to call the hypocrisies of apologists for violent republicanism, now transposed to those responsible for the collapse of the Celtic Tiger. Never one of Durcan's favourite concepts anyway, it's predictably nailed in The Recession - "that gang of tight-bottomed, pioticious, creeping jesuses in the Allied Irish Bank".

Perhaps more surprisingly, the late Pope John Paul II arouses his ire in Forefinger ... "O Karl Wojtyla, may Christ have mercy on you for I cannot".

Veering somewhere between prophet and clown can be an unrewarding role at the best of times, and though he may suffer from "60% depression", Durcan finds hope in both the absurdity of the world and his ability to empathise with the damaged and the downtrodden.

Though perhaps not as immediately impressive as his last collection, The Laughter Of Mothers, Durcan proves once more that he is as necessary to Irish poetry as breathing. Besides, not all is ending, as he observes in The Birth Of Arthur Lev Drummond ... "in a heartless world, a newborn heart".

Praise indeed.

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