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Transcript of Sport
We sense the poet's anger at being incarcerated, at being misunderstood, dismissed and disregarded by his father. We perhaps also sense anger at his younger self for trying so hard to impress the man who had essentially locked him up. There is a real sense of sorrow here too as the poet acknowledges the residual love that existed between them even after he had been committed.
We sense him lamenting his father's own mental and emotional issues, and the terrible impact they had on their relationship.
Aim: To read and analyse the poem 'Sport'
In this poem the poet addresses his father, with whom he had a difficult relationship.
As Durcan himself describes it:
'When I was ten, he began to somewhat problematic. When I think about it there were gratuitous beatings and he was incredibly severe about things like examinations. If I hadn't got second or third place it was bad news, and sometimes he would take the strap off his trousers and beat me. A man has to be so very complicated if he takes a school report for a ten year old that seriously'.
What impact do you think Durcan's father had on his life?
Durcan's father was a high ranking judge, and in the poet's account emerges almost as a stereotype of that profession - as a stern, severe and uncompromising man to whom discipline was everything. He could make no sense of his son's personality and artistic inclinations. To him these things seemed like signs of insanity or mental disorder.
Is it normal or acceptable to differ in personality from your parent(s) or guardian?
If a child is different does it create conflict?
Over the poet's teenage years the relationship between father and son became increasingly tense and then broke down completely. Finally, when the poet was nineteen, his father, along with other family members, had him committed to a psychiatric hospital. He spent the next several years in and out of various mental institutions.
'Sport' recalls a memory from a difficult period.
As he turned twenty one the poet was held in Grangegorman Mental Hospital: I was a patient/In B wing'.
He was selected to play in goal for the hospital's Gaelic football team in a match against Mullingar Mental Hospital.
Both teams consisted of inmates and not staff members.
The poet provides a vivid portrait of the opposing team.
He emphasises the great size and bizarre appearance of the Mullingar players, describing them as 'big country men' who had 'gapped teeth, red faces,/Oily, frizzy hair, bushy eyebrows.'
He stresses the enormity of the full forward line, which was 'over six foot tall/Fifteen stone in weight'. The three full forwards were all schizophrenics, while the center half forward was rumored to be an alcoholic solicitor locked up for castrating his best friend.
Yet the poet held his nerve and bravely defended his goal against the intimidating Mullingar attack: 'To my surprise/I did not flinch in the goals'.
He had played far better than he had expected to, executing several 'spectacular saves'. He found himself 'leaping high' to tip what would have been a 'certain goal' over the bar, and 'diving full stretch' to deny the Mullingar team.
The poet credits his impressive display to the fact that his father was present at the game. So keen was he to witness his son's performance that he drove all the way from Dublin to Mullingar.
'You drove all the way down,/Fifty miles,/To Mullingar to stand/On the sidelines and observe me'.
The poet was determined not to disappoint his watching father: 'I was fearful I would let down/Not only my team but you.'
Indeed, he wanted to captivate, or 'mesmerise', him with the quality of his performance.
His father's presence gave him the 'will to die', the motivation to ignore pain, risk and potential injury that he deems 'essential' to all sportsmen.
'It was my knowing/That you were standing on the sideline/ That gave me the neccessary motivation.'
Because his father was watching, he was willing to throw himself at the ball even in the teeth of the burly and demented Mullingar attack.
This may seem like a funny and light hearted poem but it provides a moving portrait of a complicated relationship between father and son. The father comes across as severe, critical and judgemental. He seems to have a low opinion of his son and is dismissive of his talents and abilities 'There were not many fields/In which you had hope for me'. Even the use of the word 'observe' in the first stands indicates the father's cold and critical manner.
The poem also highlights the personality clash between father and son. The young poet was a sensitive, talented and artistic individual. But to his father these traits meant nothing. The father regarded his son's only success as playing on a 'winning team' for Grangegorman Mental Hospital: 'In your eyes I had achieved something at last'. The son would go on to become a famous and successful poet, but, again, to the father these achievements would mean little or nothing compared to his success in goal that day: 'Seldom if ever again in your eyes/Was I to rise to these heights'.
This then is a highly dysfunctional relationship
Yet we do sense some affection remains between the two. The father, after all, turns up to support his son, travelling fifty miles to an obscure football match between two mental institutions. At the end of the game he seems to take genuine pride in his son's display: 'Sniffing your approval, you shook hands with me./Well played, son.'
Perhaps he felt his son was doing something he could understand , something manly and robust. Perhaps he felt that on this, his son's twenty-first birthday, his son was finally starting to act like a man. The poet's twenty-first birthday should have been a day of family celebration, yet it turns out to be a grim parody of togetherness, the father shaking hands with the son he's had incarcerated after a match between two mental hospitals.
The poet, too, displays a kind of affection towards the father who had him locked up. He is desperate to impress or 'mesmerise' him, and terrified of letting him down.
We are left with an agonising sense of what might have been, that under different circumstances they might have had a better relationship.
Like much of Durcan's poetry 'Sport' features imagery that is memorably strange, in particular the depiction of the Mullingar players.
How are the players described?
'Sport' uses long lines and irregular stanzas, it has no formal shape or structure.
The bizarre set up of the match between two mental hospitals can be seen as comical. There is also a farcical final scoreline.
Also the inclusion of the words 'meant well' add humour.
Who is speaking in the poem?