For most of us Christmas is the season of huge helpings of good food, good drink, and with luck, good cheer, as the rituals of cracker-pulling, present-giving and happy or sulphurous family reunions fizzle and bang through the long afternoon.
For anyone who has ever had too much of it, or felt out of it, or wanted to be out of it, or even succeeded in being out of it then been unexpectedly rescued by a good friend, this book-length poem contains a lifeline of humour and sanity in a world run seasonally mad.
It is a funny, subversive, melancholy, self-mocking conversation between two men - Paul and Frank - in the top storey flat of a Dublin apartment block; a Stations of Christmas under the influence of "woman-hunger". Once read, Christmas Day itself will never be the same again.
The volume also contains a second new work, "A Goose in the Frost", a tribute to Seamus Heaney on winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.
The irrepressible Durcan is up to his tricks again. The 52-year-old Dubliner maintains a reputation as Ireland's most popular and entertaining poet (he famously compared "his love" to a pint of stout) and yet is taken seriously by the Irish literary community as a poet extending the Celtic bardic tradition of the public balladeer. In this booklength poem, Durcan tells of a Christmas Day shared by two Irish bachelors, Paul and Frank: they bring each other gifts; they do not go to Mass; they have a meal; they sing a song or two-all the while reminiscing about old cemeteries, old loves ("Motoring down to Wesport/ And calling in on Mary McBride/ In the Old Rectory/ And taking the kids out for a spin/ All five of them") and the fate of being a poet ("Two men of no property/ Do men rate/ Who have no real estate?"). Durcan can't help but amuse, and yet here, as throughout most of his work, there is the whiff of gratifying guilt, a sense that Durcan finds a certain malicious pleasure in punishing himself with humor, knowing he deserves worse. It's a peculiar Irishness, perhaps, that permeates Durcan's poems, and may be the secret to his popularity. Still, one might question the poet's evocation of a five-year affair with a nun, which might shock the unsuspecting gift buyer ("All she was interested in/ Was making love," he wryly complains). But priests enough wander in and out of this bawdy, blarney tale to suggest that confession is being heard and sins, perhaps, will be absolved. FYI: Durcan's poem "The Goose in the Frost," written in tribute to Seamus Heaney's winning the 1995 Nobel Prize for Literature, will appear at the end of this volume.