I was delighted to be featured in Words Lightly Spoken, a podcast of poetry from Ireland, this week. I introduced and read my poem ‘Small Things’ which is dedicated to Catherine Corless and is published in the anthology, Days of Clear Light, celebrating 40 years of Salmon Poetry and its founder Jessie Lendennie.
You can access the podcast at the following links:
by Michael Durack (Revival Press 2020, ISBN 978-1-9162593-8-6)
Reviewed by Brian Kirk
Flip Sides is Michael Durack’s second poetry collection, following
2017’s Where It Began. The first impression is made by the striking cover
image which calls to mind the circular centre piece of old 45 rpm vinyl records.
Music, and popular culture in general, is never far from Durack’s range of
vision throughout this collection.
In the poem ‘B-Sides’ he takes us back to the early sixties and the exotic potential of teenage years, “Watching the juke box’s impassive claw / sift through the racks of black vinyl”. This collection sifts through the poet’s back catalogue and chooses to play us the flip sides rather than the usual standards, the general watersheds of passing time. These poems are mainly situated in the Tipperary / Clare area of his childhood and school days but also in the Dublin of his student years. These are memory poems in the main, but Durack always has one eye on the present also. In one of the earliest dated poems, ‘St. Patrick’s Day 1957’, a small poem which deftly conjures a time that is now gone but is still alive in our memory, he says:
“On a stream bank shy primroses
the Railway Cups –
After music, sport is the next
greatest unifying factor. Even in poems which appear to have no obvious
association, sport of one kind or another is employed as a metaphor. The
election of Pope John XXIII is described in sporting terms in ‘White Smoke’. Boxing
metaphors are used to good effect in the poem ‘Light Verse’. This poem is very
strong and is also a good indicator of how seriously Durack takes his own work as
a poet. ‘Double Fault’ employs an extended tennis metaphor in describing the
ups and downs of a marriage.
There can be no doubting the importance
of humour in many of these poems. The poet is not afraid to use whatever means
at his disposal to further the impact of a poem, whether that means quoting lines
from songs or other poems or using word play and puns to make a point. His
disregard for those who might warn against such things is taken to a joyous
extreme in ‘Minor Victories’ wherein he employs a stream of cliches which
culminates in “a poem accepted by a magazine, / a night of untroubled sleep.”
There is another side to Durack
also. ‘The Sun Still Rises’ is a thoughful poem which considers the advances
man has made over centuries but also recognises the simple beauty and
reassurance of the natural quotidian. ‘Handiwork’ is a poised and very moving
memory of the poet working alongside his father. It ends with such power and
grace: “Handiwork of long ago: my frail hands at his mercy, / his coarse hands
in my care.” In ‘Branch Line’ he shows us how the actions of the past are still
felt in the present, creating a living history:
“When they took up the rails and the sleepers in 1954
they unstitched the landscape between
Birdhill and Ballina.
The wound has healed with time, leaving
This is a thoroughly enjoyable
collection in which the poet takes pleasure in bringing a smile to readers’
faces. But concealed among the playful word games and extended metaphors are
subtle but powerful moments of philosophical clarity and guileless beauty.
Freedom in Constraint is a sequence of formal poems focusing on the themes of isolation and social distancing and the wider issues and challenges to community and family arising out of the current Covid 19 pandemic.
“Cocooned” is the fifth poem in the sequence. This poem is a pantoum and was written during the height of lockdown when older people and those with underlying conditions were cocooning. Once again, the film was made by my good friend Peter McCluskey and he also reads the poem. It’s interesting for me to hear the poem read by a voice different from the inner voice I hear when I read the poem.
I hope to try some different poetic forms as we move through the sequence. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy. Stay safe!
29th July 2020
Freedom in Constraint is a sequence of formal poems responding to life during the Covid 19 crisis and is made with support from the Arts Council of Ireland / An Comhairle Éalíon’s Covid 19 Response Award.
Brian Kirk is a poet, short story writer, playwright and novelist from Dublin, Ireland. His work has appeared in the Sunday Tribune, Crannog, The Stony Thursday Book, Revival, Boyne Berries, Wordlegs and various anthologies.
Brian's first poetry collection, After The Fall, is published by Salmon Poetry.