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
Radio: the Railway Cups –
Rackard, Stockwell, Ring.”
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 the scar.”
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.
Flip Sides is available to order from Revival Press.