Skip to main content

Review: Mentioning The War, the Kevin Higgins book of essays

There are several strands of Irish poetry criticism by practitioners worth reading - one thinks of the serious Heaney essays, the playful, Quixotic Muldoon ones, and then those by a variety of more experimental Irish poets.  And then there is the Kevin Higgins essay.  Unlike any other poet-critic in Ireland, Higgins is now virtually unique, also, in the UK, for his prose style and approach.  Higgins, a very good, and clever, poet, is always lucid, straightforward, honest, to the point of bluntness, and funny; that he is also politically concerned without being (anymore) a fanatic is a plus.  He has modelled himself, clearly, on Orwell - but Orwell was not a poet.  Sean O'Brien comes to mind, or perhaps Randall Jarrell, but Higgins is not as dandyish as the latter, or as partial as the former.  Mentioning The War: Essays & Reviews 1999-2011 from Salmon, is therefore a welcome book, because it gathers together scattered hack work and puts it in the hands, potentially, of anyone who wants to sit back and enjoy a dose of Higgins.

This is by no means a perfect book.  It is riddled with typos, which is a pity, and some of the shorter pieces are really best kept in scrapbooks (some are a page and a half and quite local in scope).  His take on Muldoon's rock band is very slight.  Some reviews feel dated.  And like many such books, an editor might have tried to smooth over the inevitable repetitions - or perhaps, the hobby-horses are best spotted in this way.  Clearly, Higgins is most interested in arguing against the political in literature at the expense of good writing.  He has been a left-wing activist, and has now recanted, and feels entitled to chasten those still fanatical.  As he wrote a lot for Books In Canada in the mid-00s, too, a few of his assignments concern rather leftfield books, such as that by the grumpy Quebec figure, David Solway.

At his best, Kevin Higgins is tactically blunt, and this is a gust of Atlantic air over the sometimes stale, stuffy establishment world of contemporary poetry, where people, like in Hollywood, are often afraid to say anything lest it hamper their next gig, or instead, puff-piece like mad.  Few other critics let you know where they stand so promptly.  A Higgins review is therefore always worth reading.  His essays on Orwell, his take on anti-Iraq war poetry, and on slams, are all significant interventions - he became the de facto champion of the art of slam in Ireland this last decade.  It would be good to see other Irish poets (like David Wheatley) gather their essays and reviews.  They might be as erudite, but would they be as frank?  As such, this collection, for all its faults and eccentric homeliness (the book opens with very moving, personal recollections that seem out of place), is required reading for any young poet-critic who wants to engage with 21st century Irish poetry and literary criticism.  Highly recommended, then.
Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog


Like a crazed killer clown, whether we are thrilled, horrified, shocked, or angered (or all of these) by Donald Trump, we cannot claim to be rid of him just yet. He bestrides the world stage like a silverback gorilla (according to one British thug), or a bad analogy, but he is there, a figure, no longer of fun, but grave concern.

There has long been a history of misogynistic behaviour in American gangster culture - one thinks of the grapefruit in the face in The Public Enemy, or Sinatra throwing a woman out of his hotel room and later commenting he didn't realise there was a pool below to break her fall, or the polluted womb in Pacino'sScarface... and of course, some gangsta rap is also sexist.  American culture has a difficult way with handling the combined aspects of male power, and male privilege, that, especially in heteronormative capitalist enclaves, where money/pussy both become grabbable, reified objects and objectives (The Wolf of Wall Street for instance), an ugly fus…


According to the latest CBS, ABC, etc, polls, Clinton is still likely to beat Trump - by percentile odds of 66% to 33% and change. But the current popular vote is much closer, probably tied with the error of margin, around 44% each. Trump has to win more key battleground states to win, and may not - but he is ahead in Florida...

We will all know, in a week, whether we live in a world gone madder, or just relatively mad.

While it seems likely calmer heads will prevail, the recent Brexit win shows that polls can mislead, especially when one of the options is considered a bit embarrassing, rude or even racist - and Trump qualifies for these, at least.

If 42-45% of Americans admit they would vote for Trump, what does that say about the ones not so vocal? For surely, they must be there, as well. Some of the undecided will slide, and more likely they will slide to the wilder and more exciting fringe candidate. As may the libertarians.

Eyewear predicts that Trump will just about manage to win th…


Announcing the Shortlist for the 2016 Sexton PrizeSeptember 13, 2016 / By Kelly Davio
Eyewear Publishing is pleased to announce the shortlist for the 2016 Sexton Prize. The finalists are, in no particular order, as follows:

HISTORY OF GONE, Lynn Schmeidler
SEVERE CLEAR, Maya Catherine Popa
SIT IN THE DARK WITH ME, Jesse Lee Kercheval

The shortlist was selected by Eyewear’s Director Todd Swift with Senior Editor Kelly Davio. Don Share of Poetry Magazine will select the winning manuscript, which will be released at the 2017 AWP conference in Washington, D.C. The winner will be announced in October. 
Congratulations to our finalists!