Paul Durcan's quirky poems have ever oscillated between a twinkling delight in the ordinary, day-to-day detail and a delicious surrealism that serves to find the absurdity in life and love. Greetings to Our Friends in Brazil
is an enormous book, part diary and part collection of postcards, letters, and mad telegrams. It sweeps from the Catholic missions with the poor of Brazil to Ireland under Mary Robinson to the Troubles: his extended piece on the Omagh bombing is astonishing, containing a searing and deadly serious satire on the IRA in the wake of Gerry Adam's first ever condemnation of a bombing, litanies to the dead, and gestures to the life that continues. Its agonized refusal to forgive is wrought from dignified anger.
What is so successful, here and elsewhere, is that Durcan contextualizes his amiable persona in wider and wider worlds. His friends and acquaintances are drawn in vivid, excitable flourishes, and his ambiguous relationship with Roman Catholicism is reflected in a style that cheerfully pastiches the forms of its services. His sequence of poems for the late great poet Patrick Kavanagh are wildly surreal and hilarious, but absolutely capture the essences of the man and what he meant to Durcan. Even when serious, the poems are playful, conversational, eminently readable, warm, and lovable. When Durcan writes, "What is poetry? / The art of being informal in a formal setting," it's not a manifesto, but does have a truth to it; he is an eccentric, amused, and amusing man, but in troubled times, the Holy Fool has words that the men in suits and uniforms must listen to. --Bob Potts, Amazon.co.uk
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Tired of skinny, skimpy poetry collections? Then this 257-page whopper's your man, as the Irish would say. Fascinating and involving it is, too, for though Durcan writes mostly about his life, as a continent-hopper with lovers behind and, hopefully, before him, as well as friends in Ireland's highest circles, his life is worth writing about. These 100 poems begin and end in Brazil, in between spanning the years of Mary Robinson's presidency of Ireland, during which it decisively shook off its stodgy image and Durcan went to the U.S., Somalia, and all over Europe, too. The poems reflect the travels and also Durcan's respect for the great earlier Irish poet Patrick Kavanaugh, the society of contemporary Irish writers, a little middle-aged angst, and Ireland's ongoing curse, "the troubles," about which Durcan often waxes furiously eloquent, especially in a suite of poems about bombings, their victims, and politicians' pious cant (he bears scant love for Gerry Adams). Even if you miss some of the references, Durcan's fluent free verse rivets attention. Ray Olson
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