Paul Durcan – The Days of Surprise
“WHEN power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses, for art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstones of our judgement. The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state. The great artist is thus a solitary figure…”
Thus spoke President John F Kennedy at Amherst College in Massachusetts in 1963. Poets are often the first to the gallows in a revolution. When you silence the voice of reason you have less opposition.
One of our great national treasures, Paul Durcan, will grace us next Thursday to read from his latest work, ‘The Days of Surprise.’ This is a collection of 67 new poems, sharp, insightful, witty and wise. A new Durcan poetry book is always a joy. This one is no exception. It captures the gambit of human emotions.
Paul Durcan can wear many cloaks. He is the priest bringing comfort, the preacher throwing down the challenge, the pastor leading the way, the vicar lending support and the minister of the word within words.
He is also the winsome lover, the female admirer and the possessor of a keen flirtatious smile! He is surely one who ‘could have destroyed the Peace process with his libido.’ To keep it Biblical, he is all things to all men – and women!
Living in Dublin, Paul Durcan is rooted in the west. His flesh spends many a day in Achill while his blood oozes the history of Turlough and Westport. He is both MAYo and MayO, catholic in his outlook yet a man of protest. He is a purveyor of truth – like the everlasting Atlantic wave.
His new collection brings us to all corners of ourselves. We are in the words and they are in us. ‘It was my fate to be a happy neurotic,’ he tells us in ‘57 Dartmouth Square.’ Apart from that he admits to ‘Being a lifelong mortally wounded Romantic/Since the age of four and a half.’
In ‘The Actors’ Chapel, 239 West 49th Street’ he takes us down the memory lane of fantasy and love, honour and glory, sanctity and holiness. ‘Part 111’ of this poem is pure contemplation as he writes about the consecration of the Mass, uniting heaven and earth on a New York street. ‘God only knows/Who you might see/Going in or out/As you elevate the Host/Or the Chalice/Coming down the steps/Or going up the steps/Of the Mayfair Hotel.’
In ‘A Charm of Goldfinches’ (featured in the beautiful pictorial cover) he recalls his friend releasing a caged goldfinch. The fun is there, as is the astute observation, none more so than in the title poem ode to Pope Francis, ‘A Day of Surprises.’
Anger, righteous anger, also raises its head, especially in ‘1916: Not To Be Commemorated.’ He writes: ‘The Irish Government has announced that 1916/Is not to be commemorated in 2016/On account of their 150 per cent rollback/Of the principles and ideals of the 1916 rebels…/That Liberty, Equality and Fraternity/Are prohibited substances in Ireland/In 2016 anybody caught proclaiming 1916 values/Will be sentenced to solitary imprisonment for life in a windowless room in a ghost estate…’
The book has death and life poems, celebrations and funerals, wonder and awe. Séamus Heaney gets a chimney nod! Westport energy and people feature strongly.
One poem, ‘Beau Durcan,’ is as beautiful as can be. Artist Veronica Bolay is there in tender abundance. Paul Durcan’s Lifetime Achievement Irish Book Award 2014 was a fitting tribute to one of the country’s finest poets.
Back to JKF: “(But) in a democratic society the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist, is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may. In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation.”
Paul Durcan will read from his new collection, ‘The Days of Surprise,’ at the Westport Coast Hotel, Westport Quay, on Thursday, June 4, at 8pm.