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This review is taken from PN Review 115, Volume 23 Number 5, May - June 1997.

THE FRIEND, THE FATHER, THE LOVER AND THE FRAGMENTARY POET PAUL DURCAN, Christmas Day (Harvill) £9.99
Sappho Through English Poetry, edited by Peter Jay and Caroline Lewis (Anvil) £7.95
SUSAN WICKS, Driving My Father (Faber) £6.99
SUSAN WICKS, The Key (Faber) £9.99

On the face of it, these four books might seem unlikely stablemates. In each, however, there is a subversive poetry at work, which seems to run under the main current of the writing, but which inevitably surfaces to draw together disruptions of style, voice and form.

Picture the world of Paul Durcan's poems, and I doubt you'd describe it as sun-drenched, hip or impossibly cheery. Which is not to say that his poetry is either maudlin or moribund: in each of his sixteen volumes to date. Durcan's world has been warmed by a gentle humour and a wide-eyed fascination for the quirks of human behaviour.

Christmas Day is an extended conversation between the poet/narrator and his friend, Frank. The two men have come together to share the day and its attendant rituals. But far more than being a Christmas poem, this is a poem about Irish men, living the absence of women. In their 'woman-hunger', they talk of love, sex and companionship. They also adopt the roles, language, even the costumes of women in order to outsmart their manly isolation. Frank wears a Beatrix Potter apron and serves up impressive Christmas fare. He even remembers the candles and balloons. Paul drinks rose-hip tea and, just once, calls his friend 'Máire'. They are candid, emotional and terribly vulnerable. Not even their tales of sexual successes strike a macho pose: instead, they remind the men of all that is missing in their lives. In response to Frank's ...


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