(Salmon Poetry, 2010); pbk, €12
When Kevin Higgins takes great delight in informing us that he “moved like Kevin Keegan” in his new football boots, instantly, the reader expects that the poetry to follow will be a realist description of the life, love and tribulations of the aforementioned author and his experience of growing up. And all of this is set in a constantly changing Ireland. Disguised by light-hearted banter and banal observations, Higgins nevertheless shows us a true image of that country. Remove the shillelagh-swinging, Danny Boy-crooning romanticism and we are left with a postcolonial Ireland which was vicious and harsh – an Ireland which aspired to be a world player but which was constantly overshadowed by its hegemonic British master. Higgins however, sucks up the good, the bad and the ugly left by we ‘Brits’ and mixes it into an eclectic, and often acerbic, paste. He serves dole queue philosophy, amounting to “fifty five pounds and sixty pence” per week, beside the plastic “yuppie” years spent in the “improving wine bar” with a bottle of “Blue Nun and a cooked chicken.” Standing in the sprawling council estates, consumed with all’ of life’s misery, Higgins observes everything. The attempted political changes, for example, in the form of anti-poll tax demos and Iraq war protests, certainly convey the good intentions once possessed by Ireland’s left-leaning activists. Perhaps they were misguided, perhaps they were naïve, but they were, nonetheless, full of good intention. Ireland was, and doubtless still is, subject to change; and as Higgins demonstrates, this has not always been a force for the better.
“A Dimplex heater with a broken switch” framed as a metaphor for capitalism demonstrates Higgins’ respect not only for words, but also for the art of realist street poetry; poetry which can be relished by the masses, not simply appreciated by the learned few.
Of course, no collection of Irish realist poetry would be complete without an attack on religion and, specifically, on the Roman Catholic Church. Higgins offers the reader an insight into the hypocrisy of religion, much as Joyce once offered us in Dubliners. “A Midnight Mass” where “everyone who’s anyone joins everyone who’s not,” allows him to expand on his contempt for charlatans and fakes: “For a moment the whole town shuts its eyes”, to spare a thought for those, “who, during the past year, have gone to a better place.” However, the poet’s “eyes stay open and focus on some who have gone nowhere” – a metaphor, perhaps for the stagnation of his beloved country under the dominant petty bourgeoisie and church influenced state.
Undoubtedly, where there is doom and gloom there is also love and laughter. Teen angst is displayed in “Bookshop Romance” as the poet delightfully, if a little tactlessly, allows us to understand, in stream of consciousness form, his innermost thoughts whilst attempting to entice a member of the opposite sex out on a date. What self-respecting teenage boy hasn’t experienced “something rustling in (their) corduroy trousers,” while looking at a pretty girl, and thumbing a copy of D.H.Lawrence?
Higgins takes the reader, step by painstakingly harsh step, through birth, death, and proverbial taxes in a constantly evolving country. Satirical observations, weighted in bitterness but sprinkled with comedy, offer the reader a varied insight into a postcolonial Ireland, awash with freedom fighters, Virgin Marys, bad hair days and radical movements. Higgins, instead of catching the last bus out, bags up his experiences, and turns shit into gold. Now there’s not that many who can successfully carry that out.