Poetry review: Deep thoughts of a lonely man at Christmas

Paul Durcan

Purcell Room, London

, fiftysomething certified poet from County Mayo, sits to one side of the lectern in a summery, Chekhovian wickerwork chair, listening to a brisk summary of all he has been and done: the 14 books of poems; the long-time residence in Dublin; that ability of his - or so someone once said - to charm the very birds from the trees.

His fist is pressed hard into his forehead in a Rodinesque thinker's and let-this-cup-pass-from-me pose, the two impulses deftly combined in one striking visual effect; the sleeves of his shirt, green as any nostalgia- marinaded image of the Emerald Isle herself, are rolled up high in preparation for the task ahead: a hard hour-and-a-bit's reading from Christmas Day, his minor, book-length epic of festive gloom and humorous despondency about a lonely man adrift in Dublin at Christmas. His name is Durcan - the very same, perhaps? - and he fetches up at the apartment of a friend to share his food and the colourful splendour of his drifting, party-mood- inducing balloons.

Durcan is a poet who brings an atmosphere of dramatic intensity along with him whenever he reads, an aura of ferociously pent concentration. The words seem to be hauled up from a deep well of silence. Much of the time he speaks in a conspiratorial half-whisper, the voice heavy with melancholia. His head lolls as if too heavy to support. He does nothing but read his poems - there are no introductions, no small, ingratiating acts of elucidation; no humorous asides; no attempt to put the audience at its ease.

The consequence of this is that the audience never is at its ease. It is always waiting for the sudden shock of a change of pitch, that unexpected revving and racing of the voice...

The only unscripted words of the night are his first ones, muttered before he begins to read the poem. "In memory of Lady Di," he says, "the night of the Princess."

These enigmatic words replace the poem's printed epigraph from Sophocles. Durcan's sweetly desolate humour, his crazed arias of bleak and relentless self-questioning, often make him sound like a man alone in the confessional, playing the parts of both priest and penitent, forever dashing from one side of the box to the other to eavesdrop on his own answers: "Are you a practising Catholic? Yes - I practise and practise and practise, and, when I get the chance, I play."

The changes in the moods of the voice are subtle, but those of the face are not. They are the exaggerated poses of the silent film: an intense screwing up of eyes; a curious snarl, accompanied by a squeezing and drawing in of lips; a violent shaking of the head, as if he would dearly like to rid himself of that swarm of oddities in the bottom drawer of his mind: "I am a red balloon high up in my own white ceiling..."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Fans take a selfie with Ed Miliband in Kempston, near Bedford, on Tuesday
election 2015
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

    £45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

    Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

    £60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

    Ashdown Group: Accountant - London - £48,000 - 12 month FTC

    £40000 - £48000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: International Acc...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power