TRIBUNE 4th May 2001
New collection of
poetry engages on many levels
by Rita Ann Higgins
Bloodaxe Books £7.95
The latest collection of Rita Ann Higgins poems, which was
launched last week, will engage readers at many levels, though it
may sometimes be too rich a diet for the faint of sensibility.
There is the usual humour - often mordant -, farce, pathos,
Those of the
collection which are set in Mervue and environs spill over with
the realities or urban life in the Irish 20th/21st centuries,
against a backdrop of poverty and even deprivation. As social
mirroring it is searing but it is also moving in its revelation of
the human experience and rebellious spirit.
The impact of the
poetry rests substantially on its use of language, assured if
often savage in the selection of words, uncompromising in use of
spades to describe bloody spades. Inventiveness is also a feature
of the language - Megaphoner-all-aloner was losing it with the
The imagery is stark
and brings us face to face with realities we might prefer to gloss
over. A dramatic quality is a feature of the poems which have all their
heart individuals in all their nonconformity, sometimes perversity, but
often richness of interaction with life.
The poems in their scope range
widely. In one sense they spring from the most ordinary activities, from
bingo to house painting, but the magic of the alchemist slants the perspective
to reveal the humanity within. Humanity of its nature is never far from death
and many poems deal with loss, the sense of loss looking back on the death of
Now he's dead
for his shadow
a loved nephew,
Your mother rings from your
I say, where are you?
She says, I'm at Michael's grave
And it's looking lovely
even Pope John XXX111,
Our mother cried and cried
Saint Jude and Saint Agnes
let her down big time.
On the passage to death humanity has many
other concerns and the urges of the flesh are not neglected,
In no time shyness slipped off her hips
tonight she would wear lipstick
she would be young and giddy
she would pirouette for nothing.
To talk of "reading" the poetry
is to misrepresent the nature of the interaction between the reader and the
work. The poet writes for herself and the resultant poem is a distillation
of thought and emotion. To appreciate fully the distillation the reader must
approach the poem with an attentive eye, a keen ear, a reflective mind and an
open heart. Indeed the words of a poem may sometimes reveal more than the poet
herself intended to reveal.
The apparent ordinariness of the scenes
of some of the poems in this collection and the sharp wit with which Rita Ann invests
many of them could lead the casual reader to press on too quickly to the next. I am put
in mind of an analogy from the kitchen of my home where we have a piece of glass, hexagonal
or some such, hanging in the window. It is a plain piece of glass to look at but when the
sun shines in the window the glass displays the most brilliant colours which vary depending
on the position from which you view it.
The analogy may be applied to poetry in general
to a greater or lesser degree, varying with the intensity of the poet's imagination and the
oppositeness of the language in which that intensity is clothed.
Despite the wit with which the reader will
frequently be regaled the mood of the Higgins poetry is sombre and bleak. Here are lines
from The Jugglers about queuing for a hospital appointment,
they use another language,
a keep them guessing language,
a language never heard up our
and I've heard some choice
language believe you me.
They might be educated
but they're just as intimidating
as the pushers.
You go in feeling bad,
you come out feeling worse.
The author is a courageous chronicler of modern
day society, of those who struggle with its many traumas and disappointments and of some who
sadly do not cope.