Literature: Tis the Season to Be Melancholy

Article excerpt

Irish poet Paul Durcan's `Christmas Day', which he will recite as part of the South Bank's final literature event of the year, may be seasonal, but it's certainly not festive

It was only a matter of strategy meetings before we had The Faber Book of Christmas, just out in paperback in time for the shopping frenzy. Odd, you might think, not to find a trace of Paul Durcan's "Christmas Day" in among the quality selection. Published last year, the poem's 14 cantos span the duration of one 25 December as lived by two friends, Paul and Frank.Then again, once you read it, you can understand why it couldn't easily be lumped in. Granted, writers have long savoured the bleakness of mid-winter, but this is as far removed from cotton-wool drifts of cheer as you can get: an intimate soul-searching, by turns painful and savagely funny. Inspired by the self-portraits of Lucien Freud and drawing strength from the ambition of Joyce's Ulysses, it is unapologetically autobiographical in feel and local in reference. Here, in a top-storey flat in the southern suburbs of Dublin, "Christmas is the Feast of St Loneliness" as the two men confront past griefs, lost loves and the aching "woman-hunger" of solitary middle-age in desultory conversation and sinuous recollection. …