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This review is taken from PN Review 93, Volume 20 Number 1, September - October 1993.

SPHANGNUM MOSS PAUL DURCAN, A Snail in My Prime: New and Selected Poems (Collins/Harvill) £16.00/ £.'99 pb.

I discovered Paul Durcan while browsing through the bookshop of the Irish Museum of Modern Art on my first visit to Dublin. I needed no other travel guide - for Durcan's poems take you behind the frosted windows of the bars, into the dark, incense-ridden churches, and on the No. 46A bus out to Joyce's Tower. He has a knack for conjuring up a whole life in just a few words, for conveying an atmosphere in the rhythms of his verse, and he has a wicked sense of humour. A lot of his poems deal with the troubles that we face all through our lives: with family and the difficulties we have in trying to communicate with each other; with the religious life and particularly Catholic guilt; with the intractable Irish Question. But throughout we are surprised by shafts of laughter.

Born in Dublin in 1944, Durcan did not waste much time in revealing his talent for poetry. His first collection, Endsville (which he shares with Brian Lynch) was published when he was just twenty-three. Thirteen others have since followed, including O Westport in the Light of Asia Minor, Teresa's Bar, Crazy about Women and Daddy, Daddy, which won the Whitbread Poetry Award in 1990. The best poems from these are reprinted in A Snail in My Prime, along with thirteen new poems in which Durcan has mysteriously taken on the persona of that most slimy and repulsive of garden pests.

Durcan has never, until ...


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