Poetry review: Deep thoughts of a lonely man at Christmas
Friday 12 December 1997
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..."
Life & Style blogs
How old is your heart? US research finds three out of four people have hearts five years older than their actual age
iPhone 6s Plus photos: leaks show Force Touch display, subtly altered size
Huawei Mate S and Huawei Watch: new products take on iPhone 6 Plus and Apple Watch
How to discover who your best friends are on WhatsApp - using a tool within the application
What do the emojis on Snapchat mean?
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches, it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don’t change Europe’s attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up
- 1 Huawei Mate S and Huawei Watch: new products take on iPhone 6 Plus and Apple Watch
- 2 More than 11,000 Icelanders offer to house Syrian refugees to help European crisis
- 3 If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don’t change Europe’s attitude to refugees, what will?
- 4 Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches, it's time to act
- 5 Make your voice heard: Sign The Independent's petition to welcome refugees
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...
£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...