Kevin Higgins

Kevin Higgins

Kevin Higgins is a Galway-based poet, essayist and reviewer, and satirist-in-residence at the alternative literature site The Bogman's Cannon, www.bogmanscannon.com.

O Trudeau!
Tuesday, 04 July 2017 14:37

O Trudeau!

Published in Poetry

O Trudeau!

by Kevin Higgins

Cometh the rubbish haircuts firing tweets and ICBMs;
the people with bad teeth daring to belch their opinions in public.
Cometh also the Warren Beatty of the North,
sans the wrinkles and heavy politics, bearing
to the sisterhood of the stuffed vine leaf
and gourmet sausage
ribbon-wrapped boxes labelled ‘hope’,
‘moderation’, and ‘free trade’;
your tongue’s delicious wiggling
persuading even Lycra clad
husbands to put bikes and running shoes aside
for a moment and join the ravenous pack
of dangerous sensibilists in drizzling a tribute of garlic butter all over
your French speaking torso.
Your hair, a field of wheat that reminds
soon-to-be-ex Prime Ministers
of better times.
Your words, as gorgeously proportional
as the gossip from the ladies’ golf-club,
float off towards the sun.

 

The Ghost of Galway Past
Wednesday, 05 July 2017 14:21

The Ghost of Galway Past

Published in Fiction

Kevin Higgins reviews a re-issued fictional classic banned in 1929 by the Irish Free State - 'Stalinist Albania without the sex'.

The re-publication of The House of Gold, perhaps Liam O’Flaherty’s finest novel, goes some small way to ameliorate the atrocious wrong done when the book was banned in 1929 by those charged with protecting the people of Ireland from publications that might lead them to have impure thoughts. Until now, the only publicly available copy of it in Galway City - which is on one level the novel’s subject - rested in the library at NUI Galway. I read it for the first time in 2001 when socialist activist Andy Johnston used his access to said library to obtain the book, and lent it to me. It was a dusty old hardback affair of which I had never previously even heard.

Books were banned, so the official Free State line went, because they were deemed indecent or obscene. The truth is, though, the House of Gold is more about power than it is about what the late Sid James often called rumpy-pumpy. An interesting footnote to the suppression of both The House of Gold and the many other books banned in those decades is that the Justice Minister, my not even slightly liberal near-namesake Kevin O’Higgins, was actually initially opposed to the banning of books. But concerned citizens campaigned to put that right. In 1926 the snappily named Committee on Evil Literature was set up and did a report on the issue for the Department of Justice. After, that is, spending ten months getting all hot and sweaty reading every ‘filthy book’ they could lay their moist palms upon. Today, such a committee would probably include as members such luminaries as William Binchy, Labhrás O’ Murchú, Breda O’Brien, the ever greasy Senator Ronan Mullen, and the tragic monument that is John Waters. The result was the Censorship of Publications Board which was set up in the generally happy clappy year of 1929. Books by pretty much every major Irish writer of the period were banned by the very active Board. Also banned was all literature giving information about family planning.

The House of Gold is set in a fictional town, Barra, where the big hopes most had for post-independence Ireland have vanished down a pretty ghastly dead end. Almost absolute power rests with the avaricious Ramon Mór Costello, who owns most of the town and operates in alliance with some even grubbier than usual representatives of the Holy Roman and Apostolic Church. Ramon Mór is an early twentieth century Irish version of J.R. Ewing, without the excellent put-downs and charming personality. Ramon’s wife, Nora, is, to quote Eric Idle: “a bit of a goer.” In the first chapter she sneaks off for an occasion of sin with a left wing dissident, a guy who, if he was around today, would probably be found with megaphone and leaflets outside Lynch’s Castle on Shop Street when he wasn’t busy messing up the bed sheets of the bourgeoise. Their relationship is the best possible sort of class collaboration. Nora despises her husband Ramon, but feels at his mercy, which she absolutely is. It’s also clear she sympathises with the political ideas of the aforementioned dissident: “it make me feel like a criminal, every fair day, to see all these half-starved people coming into town with their cattle, selling them and giving all the money to him.”

In his preface, Tomás Mac Síomóin says: “Anyone familiar with Galway, the gaelicisms of its speech and with its people will recognise that O’Flaherty’s Barra is, in fact, Galway. The character profiles that abound are based, undoubtedly, on identifiable inhabitants of that town in the immediate aftermath of the Irish Civil War.” It is widely believed that Ramon Mór Costello is a fictionalised version of Mairtín 'mór' McDonagh, then patriarch of the McDonagh merchant family, who employed much of the town, sold the farmers everything they needed and bought their cattle from them at ungenerous prices set by a ‘free’ market in which the McDonagh’s had a near monopoly for many decades. This book was explosive material when it was first published eighty four years ago.

Even today, it is a dangerous enough book. It wasn’t just neglect that led to it remaining out of print so long. Nor is it a coincidence that it had to go to Spain to find a publisher. The McDonagh’s are still around. Today they are involved in, among other things, property development. Here is a quote from the website of Thomas McDonagh and Sons Limited:

Established over 150 years ago as merchants in Galway, the group of companies operating under the banner of Thomas McDonogh and Sons Limited is now one of Ireland's foremost private companies, with a network of operations and offices throughout the island of Ireland.

It goes on to say:

Throughout its history, the company has played an active role in the local communities in which it is situated. This is particularly evident in Galway, where the company remains actively involved in local business (IBEC, Chamber of Commerce), the arts (Druid Theatre, Galway Arts Centre) and sport (Galway Races, Galway Golf Club).

“An active role”, they most certainly have played. Myself and my wife, Susan, both teach writing workshops at the above mentioned Galway Arts Centre. We may sometimes think we’re classless and clever and free but the truth is otherwise.

The House of Gold is quite beautifully written; the word dark does little justice to how dark it sometimes gets. At the end of Chapter Two, Ramon’s wife Nora is raped by a priest who is one of her husband’s key allies in the greasy till-shivering prayer coalition which rules the town, now the British have gone. Before the rape, in a scene so bizarre it has the absolute ring of truth, the priest shouts a prayer for the willpower not to rape her: “Lord have mercy on me. I am being swallowed in the abyss of lust. My will is weak. Take this apple of evil from my sight.” He then proceeds.

On one level this priest is just another dude with ‘issues’ that make him a serious danger to women. On another, though, the way he treats sex as if it is something that’s both disgusting and all the woman’s fault is traditional Irish Catholic ideology at its worst. It is a great thing indeed that this near masterpiece is back on our bookshelves. Special credit is due to Jenny and Niall Farrell who played an important role in getting it there. The House of Gold should be force-fed to everyone who misses the good old days and thinks the Iona Institute have a point. It is the story of what life was like in many Irish towns, Galway being no exception, back when the Chamber of Commerce ruled in coalition with the type of rubbish now to be found in Youth Defence. A friend of mine says that Ireland then was like Stalinist Albania without the sex. The House of Gold makes it clear though, that whatever the reality for most of the population, the Catholic clergy always made sure that, by fair means or foul, they themselves did not go wanting in the carnal department.

The House Of Gold by Liam O’Flaherty is published by Nuascéalta (251pp €11.99).

Pity The Woman Made of Wood
Thursday, 22 June 2017 19:26

Pity The Woman Made of Wood

Published in Poetry

Pity The Woman Made of Wood

by Kevin Higgins

Crowned temporary Empress
of this tragic bit of chipboard floating
off the northernmost coast
of what used to be Europe.

Open please your hearts, empty your heads
and pretend not to notice the predictable few
disfigured old bastards who operate her,
yanking the all too visible wires
that make her jaws clack
awkwardly up and down. Pity please
this woman made of wood
now she’s too well understood
and gets all the kicks and expletives,
when she tries to speak about
anything other than the quarterly accounts.

Her back burdened and bent.
Respect please the enormity
of the pearls she must bear
about her splintering neck.
And don't be behind with the rent
or petition her to save you when you again
characteristically fail to save yourself.

When smoke curls black under your door
you can snore on unperturbed in your narrow little bed,
bought with a pay-day loan obtained - quite legally -
from a bloke reputed to give defaulters
cement flip-flops for Christmas, to take them safely
down one of the larger pipes that joyfully
pour shit into the River Styx.

But the woman made of wood,
must at all costs avoid
unguarded flames for she would go up
like a cheap deckchair that picked the wrong
day to go sunbathing at Hiroshima.

Think of this, please, when bawling
your lucky human screams
as the fire arrives quite matter-of-fact
to oxidise you to a small hill of ashes
around what looks like
a collarbone. No such luck
for the woman made of wood.

Death Chant of Capitalism’s Handmaidens
Wednesday, 31 May 2017 18:33

Death Chant of Capitalism’s Handmaidens

Published in Poetry

Death Chant of Capitalism’s Handmaidens: For Choir of 350 Identical Voices

 by Kevin Higgins

We the underwritten do with great solemnity promise

on our watch Union Carbide, Johnson & Johnson,

Lockheed Martin, and the late Herrs Bosch and Braun 

will all have penis and balls cleanly dismantled,

made safe, and exported to fortify the wall

keeping terrorists from Judea and Samaria out;

each have a working vagina installed

under a Chanterelle beige

plutonium-powered pants suit fit

to play rhapsodies in

for the safe delivery of the shells

Golda guided onto the outskirts

of Damascus, for Indira’s ‘Smiling Buddha’

one thousand four hundred kilogram bomb,

for Imelda’s closet of shoes too fabulous

for the likes of you, on a grand piano

your grandmother swiped

from departed refugees,

seconds after one’s typed

in the codes to end man,

plant, and womankind;

bequeathed the planet to the gender neutral,

and hence far more successful, bacilli

Deinococcus Radiodurans who unlike us

will waste not one moment working out

on their calculators

which Facebook comments

it would be a smart career move

to like.

 

Note by Kevin Higgins

Recently, Frankie Gaffney wrote the following article in the Irish Times: Identity politics is utterly ineffective at anything other..... 

Frankie's argument that class, not gender, sexuality or race, is the key division in society was supported online by a number of activists and writers of both genders, and was shared sympathetically by many, including Kitty Holland, the Irish Times journalist who broke the story of the in 2012 death of Savita Halappanavar (after she was refused an abortion at University Hospital Galway), a tragedy which led to Ireland's abortion laws being amended. 

An open letter titled 'Cop On Comrades' condemning those who shared the article and supported Frankie's article was then published and signed by 350 women 'activists' https://feministire.com/2017/05/25/cop-on-comrades/ It focuses on the men who shared the article, for obvious opportunist reasons, ignoring the fact that many women also supported the general point of view. Elsewhere online Kitty Holland, perhaps Ireland's leading journalist on the issue of women's rights, was condemned by some for being anti-feminist. 

It must be pointed out that though many of the signatories to the 'Cop On Comrades' are indeed respected activists, a good number have never been active in doing anything other than promoting their own literary ambitions; a few were open supporters of Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders in last year's US Presidential election; and several remained entirely silent during the massive movement against water charges/privatisation (2014-16) which mobilised hundreds of thousands of working and middle class people and forced the Irish government into a historic climb down.

Theresa May spanks Donald Trump
Monday, 15 May 2017 18:58

The Great Repeal

Published in Poetry

The Great Repeal

by Kevin Higgins

“As it happens, personally I have always
been in favour of fox hunting” - Theresa May

Furthermore,
when we abolish the political correctness gone mad
that is the Human Rights Act,
it will again be legal to strip and smear
Conservative parliamentary candidates
with animal fat and pursue them with hounds
through the Devon countryside on
bank holiday Mondays; legal

to remove from your property
with a horsewhip or, failing that, a crossbow
any Daily Mail journalists
you catch going through your bins;

legal to tie down and spread tuna fish oil all over
the Chairman (or Woman) of a FTSE 100 company
and leave the rest
to your expert team of feral cats;

legal to chase
with demented Alsatians
through Welwyn Garden City of a Wednesday
former rock journalists with nothing left
but their opinion of themselves;

legal in certain parts of East Sussex
to set starving greyhounds
on anyone you think resembles
a retired tennis player
or Mike Read of the BBC;

legal again to hunt, using properly licensed rifles,
decayed intellectuals
with nothing now going on under
their formerly magnificent hair
on the anniversary of Professor Norman Stone’s funeral;

legal once more to celebrate
St. George’s Day by following
Pippa Middleton around Herefordshire with bulldogs
and a temperamental shotgun;

when the British people rise,
put the B back into Britain
and she once again rules
the itsy-bitsy waves
around the Isle of Wight, mate.
The waves around the Isle of Wight.

Parcel of Masochists
Wednesday, 03 May 2017 20:52

Parcel of Masochists

Published in Poetry

Parcel of Masochists
after 'Parcel of Rogues' by Robert Burns

by Kevin Higgins

What we’re fashioning for you is muscular and wobbly
as the pornographic ghost of something that can never be. We stand
for the crucial few against the barbarous shrieks of the many;
strong and stable as the Blenheim Palace walls.

Your granny, a supporter of ours since at least
thirteen eighty one, will be recycled to make
a bag-for-life that’ll go on to be forgotten
in one of the finer antique cabinets in Belgravia,
and be ecstatic at our forgetting.

When we make you prove the third baby,
you couldn’t quite bring yourself to kill,
is progeny of the maniac who imposed
himself on you in a November alleyway – and so
tax deductible under section five c– you’ll know
you brought the question on yourself. Stable
and strong we stand as the Blenheim Palace walls
against the barbarous shrieks of the many.

Your other two children, they’ll want to kiss
our tanned cattle skin pants, when the schools we envisage
for them ensure they overcome their potential, become
to stupid what Kenya is to long distance running,
what the late Felix Unger is to sinus infections.
Strong and stable as the Blenheim Palace walls
stand we for the crucial few.

Even the birdsong in your summer garden
will be disembodied and sold as a ringtone
on custom-built mobile phones only available
particular days of the week from a forward
looking outlet at Zurich Airport.

Once we’ve the contract for that
signed, we come for what
remains of you. And secretly glad
to see us burst
your door, we both know
you’ll wetly be.

Wat Tomson MP: A Heroic Ode
Wednesday, 19 April 2017 20:39

Wat Tomson MP: A Heroic Ode

Published in Poetry

Wat Tomson MP: A Heroic Ode

by Kevin Higgins

Less a man than flesh materialised
around a pair of black rimmed spectacles
stolen from the still warm corpse
of a discredited French intellectual.

Beloved of moderate trade unionists who aspire
to cross picket lines to attend
all-expenses-paid conferences on the fight
for income unhappiness held
in the mini-bars and bathrooms
of top hotels in Bromsgrove;

and future failed parliamentary
candidates for Birmingham Ladygarden
with no detectable personality
who dare dream of firing intercontinental
penis enlargements manufactured
in their own constituencies
at goats up mountains in Somalia
from warships floating
in their kitchen sinks,

though even they prefer the sight of you
pleasuring your glasses
first softly with your left
then with your preferred
hard right hand

to the dread thought of what your gut’s
doing to all the pies and ice cream the tax-
payer keeps shovelling
down the blathering hatch
in the bottom half of your face,

because when that blows
we all go up with it, and the world’s
pebble-dashed the worst
shade of brown.

Tax: an extract from Michael Noonan's next budget speech
Thursday, 06 April 2017 14:45

Tax: an extract from Michael Noonan's next budget speech

Published in Poetry

from Tax
after Michael Noonan.

In the income tax arena
I am introducing a scheme:

whereby a fifty year old man
living in, for example,
Galway, will still be able to claim
for his increasingly rickety right knee
here in Ireland, but allowed register,
for tax purposes,
his far more profitable left leg in Jersey.

He’ll be able to claim relief here on his wonky eye
but will only have to pay tax on the good one
at whatever the rate is in Luxembourg.

His three sets of dentures, all twenty six
fillings and those two root canals
will continue to be deductible here,
though he’ll now pay tax
on what’s left of his actual
teeth in Bermuda.

The good fifty percent of his lungs
he’ll be allowed set up
as an independent company
in the British Virgin Islands,
while the useless half will legally
continue to be Irish.

His nausea will remain ours,
though his enormous appetite
will now officially live on the more
glutton-friendly Isle of Man.

His beleaguered liver will continue
to be officially resident here,
while his still superefficient
bowels will spend enough time in Switzerland
to pay (hardly any) tax there.

The scar above his left buttock,
acquired when he toppled through a glass door
backwards, circa nineteen seventy three,
will continue to be deductible here,
while the balance of his bum –
in surprisingly good condition for a man his age,
though he says so himself – declares
its vast income at an office
in Wilmington, Delaware.

Elsewhere, I am extending the relief on brown leather
trousers and industrial strength lawnmowers
for fat couples with Anglo-Norman sounding names
in the better bits of Kildare for another five years.
There is agreement across the political consensus
it’s essential such people are given sufficient incentives
to keep doing
whatever it is they supposedly do.

In this poem the author has a premonition of Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan's next budget speech. The philosophy behind this budget speech has been a great success all around the western world and is, for example, essential to Richard Branson's ability to buy an island so he can invite Barack Obama and his wife Michelle there on holiday and then share the photos on Twitter to show what a cool guy Richard is, despite the awful service Virgin Trains provide.

It should also be noted that the author lives in Galway and was fifty recently. Happy birthday Kevin!

Heavy Clogs
Monday, 06 March 2017 14:53

Heavy Clogs

Published in Poetry

Heavy Clogs

by Kevin Higgins

I’m the local schoolmistress
who worked hard to know
the zilch I knew about this.

I’m the Department Inspector
who remembered
the questions not to ask.

I’m the concerned citizen who never
heard their heavy clogs go,
by forced marches, up the Dublin Road.

I’m the editor of the Tuam Herald,
who talked instead about
the Pope’s visit.

I’m the Government Minister whose pink skull
baldly admired the particular yellow
of the roses by the newly whitewashed wall,
and thanked the nuns for their work.

I’m the County Councillor concerned
about the cost to the ratepayer
- per skeleton - of piling that many small ones
of whom no one had ever heard

into a disused hole in the ground
- one big concrete sarcophagus -
no one knew anything about.

An Irish government inquiry last week admitted that the remains of 796 infants and toddlers have lain for decades at the site of the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co. Galway in unmarked graves. Many of the bodies are believed to have been buried in a disused septic tank. When local amateur historian Catherine Corless broke the story in 2014, Irish Times journalist Rosita Boland, PR guru Terry Prone, former intellectual Tom McGurk (and other assorted apologists for things as they are) all leapt forth to say that it was most unlikely that such a thing could possibly have happened. But it did. The home was operational between 1925 and 1961. It’s believed some of the bodies may now be under houses built locally since the home closed. 

The translation of Bon Secours is 'Good Help'.

KH tuam 1

 

 

 

 

Choctaw Village by Francois Bernard, 1869
Tuesday, 14 February 2017 20:29

Pictures of Unfamiliars

Published in Poetry

Pictures of Unfamiliars
after Carolyn Forché

by Kevin Higgins

Beamed into one’s living room via satellite,
or framed in syndicated photographs
on the quality papers’ foreign pages, even
their black or missing front teeth
have a strange beauty.

The shanty town dwellers of La Paz,
in their hand-woven red and green ponchos,
carry themselves in a fashion
which puts to shame the post office queue
scraggy mother of two, with change
in her slovenly wallet for lottery tickets,
but not shampoo.

Nothing against the locals.
But the skeletal Colosseum cats have a grace
which the one I ran over on my way
to this morning’s Amnesty
International meeting absolutely lacked,
even before my brand new
Goodyear Assurance tires ironed flat
its entirely unremarkable pelvis.

The ongoing pain of the Yazidi women
and the entire Choctaw nation (every generation)
is best struggled with over a Fairtrade salad
in one of the more radical tea shops
on Sandymount Strand.

In comparison, one admits,
our local Others – with their dole
day drunkenness, and lack of imagination
which has seen them prosaically wander the roads
these past thousand years – just
don’t cut the whole grain mustard.

When they start mouthing Civil Rights
and municipal water cannon, or
police batons get over enthusiastic
on their irresponsibly positioned skulls,
people like me will feel forced to pass by
on the other side, checking our messages
for pictures of unfamiliars being
deliciously maltreated
anywhere else.

Note: Poet Carolyn Forché wrote a poem titled ‘Against Forgetting’. She also co-edited the excellent anthology Poetry of Witness but forgot to include any poems by Native American poets because there were, apparently, no poetic witnesses to the genocide of the Native American people to be found in the United States of America, the country in which Carolyn Forché lives.

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