READING HIS new collection, Praise In Which I Live And Move And Have My Being, the image of Paul Durcan that emerges is of a shadowy figure in a great cloak moving imperceptibly in and out of the cracks, crannies, and crevices of the human experience.
Throughout he notes its idiosyncrasies, eccentricities, and hypocrisies as well as the wonders and beauties of the species, and transforming all of this into a poetry that is generally satiric, often funny, sometimes savage, but always insightful, lyrical, and beautiful, imbued as it is with a deep humanity and sensitivity, celebrating the achievement and personality of the human being but also acutely aware of its limitations.
A flowery image yes, but if the reader is willing to take it on, the reading experience of this intense new collection will be infinitely richer and much more enjoyable. The landscape of the volume is a global one, beginning in Hodges Figgis bookshop in Dublin and continuing on to Paris, Chicago, Connemara, Algeria, Westport, Newfoundland, Toowoomba in Australia, Oaxaca, Kinsale, Ennis, Achill, and finally back to Dublin, the poet never once missing a beat or batting an eyelid.
Of great personal interest - and poetry of its essence is always personal – are the Parisian poems which comprise a significant section of the collection. Although there is nearly a 40 year gap between our two sojourns in this most enigmatic of capitals, Durcan’s portrait of it and its inhabitants is uncanny in its familiarity, underlining his tremendous poetic powers. Nowhere is this more evident than in Christmas in Paris:
“That old man in the window of the burger joint,
On the corner of the Boulevard St Michel and the Rue Soufflot,
Who is he? With the white hair and the red face?
Night after night between 6pm and 8pm
High in the window?”
The old man was there in 1970. He was also probably there when the Nazis paraded down the Champs Elysées, when the streets of Paris ran red with guillotined blood, implacable, unmoveable, a symbol of the loneliness any outsider feels who tries to make Paris his or her home, the loneliness that drags from Durcan the last line of the poem blurted out in sheer desperation:
“Vive La France! Je me révolte, donc je suis.”
This last almost defiant line reveals a more personal level of the collection in which the poet faces the pain of his own loneliness, a loneliness that looms larger as old age encroaches and which is epitomised in The Clothes Line:
“After sixty four years of companionship and conviviality,
On a summer’s day
These are the friends – the friends I have left –
My clothes on the clothes line................
Their arms, their legs, their torsos
Keep me company for an hour or two
And they are charitable enough to overlook my mortality.”
Again this sense of mortality is underlined with references to stints in a hospital ward and radiotherapy as well as a discussion of suicide. However intermingled with this fear and vulnerability is a self deprecating but strong sense of humour which gives the poems a wonderful energy and colour as in Petit Déjeuner With Breda, The Lady in Weirs, and To Dympna Who Taught Me Online Banking.
A highlight of the collection and one which informs its ethos is the short but beautiful poem in memory of his aunt:
“A grain of sand I am blown on to a
Clump of heather and I see
Alight large above me a butterfly
With black and orange stripes –
It’s Auntie Maureen aged ninety-four
Smiling down upon me
And she is saying
‘While you were sleeping Paul, I died.
Isn’t it the most glorious morning!’”
Durcan will be inaugurating this new collection during the upcoming Cúirt International Festival of Literature where he will be giving a reading with Rita Anne Higgins in the Town Hall Theatre on Tuesday April 24 at 8.30pm.
This reading will sell out fast and it is advisable to get your tickets early and those privileged to procure one are in for a rare treat. For us other plebs, thankfully, there is this astonishing collection to taste and savour at our leisure. Having done so personally, I can only say with the deepest respect, “Monsieur Durcan, poète, Je te salue”.
Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie