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Monday, 22 March 2010

Poem Focus: Great Poems From Identity Parade #03

The third poem in this series of contemporary "British and Irish" classics is by Galway-based poet Kevin Higgins. Higgins can be said to have introduced a paradigm shift in Irish poetry around the turn of the century - away from, on the one hand, Joycean avant-gardism, and, on the other, Heanyesque sincerity. Instead, Higgins returns Irish writing to its third policeman, Satire. Not the po-mo irony of Muldoon, mind you - not the bitter loam of Kavanagh - not the high tone of Yeats - but as down-and-dirty Swift as it gets, with the additional blade-in-the-apple of Aubade-era Larkin. Higgins has turned Galway into a Higginsland - the new Boom-and-Bust Ireland of power lunches, Polish waitresses, and sudden economic collapse - and turned his caustic eye on the country as a whole. With a dash of performance hubris, he is that rare thing - a crowd pleaser with the mirror turned on the audience.

'The Couple Upstairs' is one of Higgins's gentler, more Larkinesque poems, but it captures his midway style between humour and lyricism. It features a nameless couple upstairs (who may or may not include Higgins) and an unnamed widow below, armed only with her stick "suddenly frantic against the ceiling" as sex happens, or a poetry book drops to the floor, ruining an ordinary Tuesday afternoon. Higgins here uses his original trope of contextualising the Irish-banal with historic events ludicrously outsized, so that the "chair/ you've sat in since Jimmy Carter" places her decades past her due date. The poem finally ends with a bit of lightning that Thomas might have forked.
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