On the day the Irish government announced they are (for the duration of the crisis) incorporating all private hospitals into the public health system, Kevin Higgins offers this poem in memoriam of Ireland's two tier health system which will hopefully never come back. It was inspired by a private hospital, the Galway Clinic, which actually does have a self-playing grand piano in the foyer but is only open during office hours.
In The White Man’s Clinic
by Kevin Higgins
A grand piano plays itself on a giant Chinese rug in a foyer so vast I once went there by mistake, hoping to catch a long haul flight to Melbourne via Abu Dhabi.
Instead found myself in a glass palace where surgeons do things no one thought possible and which, in the end, weren’t;
in the process making sad intestines sing like water damaged concert violins, lungs hoot like ruined tubas in a building designed to mature into a hotel, when it fails as a hospital for those who can afford to die during office hours.
Back when the three giant liners, Britannia, Eurasia, and Sweet Land of Liberty weren’t all simultaneously taking on tonnes of water, you didn’t have to think about what makes them float.
After loading your gut at the buffet with more prawns and chocolate cheesecake than it could be trusted to process – each prawn pausing to give you a filthy look before it slid down your in-pipe – you’d relax on the deck of whichever of these great ships you had a ticket for, sip a glass of alleged sophistication, as a talking corduroy jacket at the table next to you waxes loud and large about cheap insurance policies and the invincibility of ships such as this.
Now you’ve speed-read the technical manuals and know if certain particulars aren’t fixed we’re all going to die or, at least, want to; you look at the corduroy jackets talking their opinions and wonder if it’s better to be like them; to think the answer might be to elect as captain some demagogue made of blancmange or, failing that, Joe Biden;
or if not knowing just makes the shock of the ocean hugging you that bit worse?
The New Rising Will Not Be Available Later On The RTE iPlayer
after Gil Scott Heron
by Kevin Higgins
There will be no avoiding it, gobshite. You will not be able to log on, click like and see both sides. It will interrupt your plans for a gap year in Thailand, or to skip out for a wank during the new Guinness ad. The new rising will not be available later on the RTE iPlayer.
Because it will not be suitable for children or county councillors of diminutive stature who might find it by accident on the internet while trying to hire a hitwoman or a dominatrix in the greater Ballyseedy area, or open an offshore account on the Aran Islands.
The new rising will not be available later on the RTE iPlayer. Will not be presented by Joe Duffy in four parts with every possible intrusion from people trying to sell you bits of Allied Irish Bank or butter that’s more spreadable than Ebola. The new rising will not show you pornographic clips of Micheál Martin blowing the biggest tin whistle in recent Irish history and leading a charge by Eamon Dunphy, and all the assembled wise men of Aosdána on the kitchens of the Shelbourne Hotel.
It will not be available later on the RTE iPlayer or be brought to you by the Abbey Theatre not Waking The Nation. It will not feature guest appearances from Princess Grace of Monaco, Graham Norton, and Bono’s old sunglasses. The new rising will not give your Danny Healy Rae blow up doll sex appeal. It will have no advice on how to reduce the size of your moobs overnight in the greater Cootehill area by just dialling this number. It will not try to sell you travel insurance every time you buy a bus ticket to anywhere in Sligo.
There will be no pictures of you, Mary Kennedy, and Daithi Ó Sé pushing shopping trolleys around Supervalu in aid of Children In Need, or trying to smuggle the body of Ann Lovett onto a flight to Medjugorje in aid of CURA. The new rising will not be available later on the RTE iPlayer. Harry McGee’s haircut will not be able to predict the result by midday the following day based on reports in now from 43 constituencies. And it will not be available later on the RTE iPlayer.
There will be no pictures of well ironed Garda uniforms dangling known subversives out high windows in strict accordance with the law. There will be no pictures of Joan Burton and Katherine Zappone being run out of Jobstown in the extreme discomfort of cars paid for by you.
Whether or not Louis Walsh dyes his pubes will no longer be relevant. Nobody will care if Paul finally gets to screw everyone on Fair City, including himself, because the small people will be in the street turning on the sunshine. And this will not be available later on the RTE iPlayer.
To assist the re-education of those who insist on just watching it on TV, the Angelus immediately before the Six One News will be replaced with smoking videos of outgoing cabinet ministers at length (and with great enthusiasm) feasting on the more excitable parts of Apple CEO Tim Cook. For in the new jurisdiction the powers that were will be made admit their true religion, and then set free.
There will be no lowlights on the nine o’clock news claiming there was hardly anyone there. The theme song will not be written by Phil Coulter or Dustin, nor be sung by Linda Martin, Westlife, or Foster and Allen. And it will not be available later on the RTE iPlayer.
It will not be right back after a message from an actor in Killinaskully you can’t quite name promising to kill 99% of known bacteria, including those that’ll make Michael O’Leary’s ass eventually decompose. The new rising will hand the Lewis sub-machine gun to you, your increasingly discontented cat, and your most eccentric auntie.
This rising will not be available later on the RTE iPlayer. This rising will be live, gobshite, live.
There has been much tweeting lately about inclusivity in Irish poetry publishing and reviewing, particularly in relation to women poets. I’m all in favour of giving platforms to poets who are not white heterosexual males.
Every year since its foundation in 2003, the Over The Edge readings I co-curate with Susan Millar DuMars have seen women writers in the majority. Most of the poets I review here are women. Elsewhere, there are a couple of legacy Irish literary institutions which still appear to live in the 1950s.
The main problem with the Irish poetry world in 2020 is no longer women poets not being published and reviewed; it is that the entirely State-funded, and largely unaccountable, Irish poetry establishment is dominated by posh liberals who suppress things they do not like. Your average member of the Irish poetry establishment today is an increasingly frightened Irish Times reader who paid water charges, secretly prefers Irish people (of all genders and colours ) dying of homelessness to the horrid thought of a Left government led by Sinn Féin, and lives mostly on the public purse.
Ireland is a country facing a grave social crisis. You would not know it from our main literary festivals which are extravaganzas of complacency at which people who read Kathy Sheridan’s columns, and take them seriously, wander around the place agreeing with each other.
In this context, The Children of the Nation: An Anthology of Working People’s Poetry from Contemporary Ireland, edited by Galway-based academic Jenny Farrell, is a revolutionary document. From the opening sentence of Jenny’s introduction, it is clear we are in a different world from those deluded literary festivals: “Just as societies today are rooted in classes, those who exploit and those who are exploited, so too there exist two cultures, divided along the same lines.” Though they would start foaming about the lips if you said it to them straight, the Irish poetry establishment is the literary wing of the exploiter class. It gives us the poetry the landlords and vulture funds want us to have.
The Children of The Nation, taking its title from the radical aspiration for equality in the 1916 Proclamation, contains work by many well known poets such as Gearóid MacLochlainn, Rita Ann Higgins, Celia de Fréine, Gabriel Rosenstock, and Rachel Coventry, but the way Jenny Farrell has put it together, this anthology fundamentally challenges Irish poetry’s official version of itself. There is a poem here about being stopped by the British army in Belfast in 1979, a poem about being a whistleblower, a poem about how eager the State is to push tranquillisers on the inconvenient, a heart tearing poem about a woman alcoholic dying in vividly described squalor, and much more.
Having set herself the task in her introduction of showcasing a contemporary “plebeian, democratic, socialist culture...of the dispossessed”, Jenny Farrell succeeds admirably.
The Children of the Nation: An Anthology of Working People’s Poetry from Contemporary Ireland, is available here. This article is republished from the Galway Advertiser.
That this cannot be avoided by everyone wearing protective glasses. That the contents of their half-full cups are about to evaporate. That the University will remain closed until further notice. That Kim Kardashian’s arse has been abolished. That the idea of tomorrow is suddenly quaint as a dinner plate made in West Germany. That the price of house insurance just went up ten thousand per cent. That the lack of reception on their mobile phones isn’t because they’re going through a tunnel. That even the hairstyle of the Fox News anchor woman is no longer perfect. That Adolf is now the second most hated politician in history. That the station at which this train terminates no longer exists. That the priest who’ll give them last rites is just a guy in an outfit his brother recently wore to a fancy dress. That God is a skeleton who knows everything and will one day talk.
I got the idea for this poem while walking through the grounds of our local hospital, just behind our house, the week after Donald Trump was elected. I looked at the apparently solid buildings and the normal life going on all around and thought: none of this is guaranteed to continue. A world war which would bring buildings like these down and put a stop to what we think of as normal, everyday things is now entirely possible. The image is Napalm, by Banksy.
Dear great-uncle-in-law in Larne, who secretly thinks people should cease picking on the poor Duke of York. You punched the air so vigorously the night Doris Johnson won his victory and proper order was temporarily restored that your wife was about to speed-dial the cardiologist when you finally drifted on your latest new sofa to your recurring night fret: how will the united Ireland the papers say all this makes more or less inevitable pay for my pension?
Short answer: it won’t. Though worry not, there’ll be plenty of gainful work for buck-eejits like you: painting road-signs in Irish in the likes of the Shankill and Ballymoney with the giant can of extreme green spray paint that will be provided.
Your induction day task, that first Monday morning, to daub Liam of Oráiste on the statue of King Billy at Carrickfergus under the bespectacled eye of a trained Gaelgeoir, there to ensure you restore – though a few centuries late - the fada they stole off the ‘a’ in ‘orange’.
Author's Note: In this poem a fictional narrator living in the Republic of Ireland addresses an entirely fictional elderly in-law who lives in Northern Ireland and is from a protestant, unionist background. All of the towns and districts mentioned are staunchly unionist (sometimes called loyalist). The fictional in-law in question is a big fan of Doris Johnson (and bad things generally) at least in theory. But said fictional in-law is worried that Doris Johnson’s political wrecklessness might lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom and a united Ireland which he worries might not be able to pay his pension.
The poem’s narrator decides not to assuage his in-law’s fears because he doesn’t think people who cheer on upper-class psychopaths deserve to be reassured. One of the key issues preventing a restoration of devolved government in the northern part of Ireland is the fact that the DUP have resisted an Irish language act which could mean, among other things, that all road signs and public notices would have to be in both English and Gaeilic. “Liam of Oráiste” is the Gaelic translation of William of Orange; a “Gailgeoir” is an Irish-language enthusiast (some would say fanatic); a “fada” is the Gaelic equivalent of the French accent which appears, for example, over the “a” in “Oráiste” to indicate a vowel should be pronounced long; “Tiocfaidh Do Lá” means ‘your day will come’ and is a play on the traditional Irish Republican slogan “Tiocfaidh Ár Lá”, which means ‘our day will come’.
The moment you grow too sure he sends the world into reverse; one by one, begins taking back your Christmas presents and keeps taking until you have less than you had December the first, the year you were born.
He stuffs you into the boot of a car and drives you backward many miles until you’re further from your destination than you were the day you started out.
He gives you back all your illnesses at once but lets you keep the side-effects of the poison that was going to fix you.
He rents a skip for outside what was once your house; lets local children put you and your opinion of yourself in it.
He makes your mother drag herself up out of her grave and bang the table as she tells the committee, no she never heard of you.
When telling us, as a nation, to cop on to ourselves you spit the words Provo or workers’ paradise like a lady trying to rid her mouth of sour milk.
But your voice is church bells and sunshine pouring down on Kingstown Harbour, circa 1913 when you put your tongue across the syllables Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth.
The greatest thing to come out of Crumlin since the curried chips that made a young Phil Lynott question his lifestyle choices.
You are as politically and philosophically serious as a Second Division footballer’s fashion sense, circa 1977; or a stockbroker last seen exiting a high-end house of great repute wearing a thirteen-gallon hat; or a guy in a white linen jacket who’ll end up wandering O’Connell Street shouting against Home Rule.
And without you, we’d not be ourselves. For you are our national anticonvulsant without which we’d be in danger of actually doing something.
What are they waiting for, the archbishops and casino owners clutching their bags of cocaine, the barman at Wetherspoons eyeing the clock, and the little people who live in Jacob Rees-Mogg’s top hat who’ve been watching things go slowly downhill since thirteen eighty one?
Boris is to arrive today in a chariot driven by a man with syphilis.
Why so few new laws up for debate in the House? Why do the Lords seem happy to lie about the place waiting for aneurysms to take them, without even the energy to pay their assistants to give them one last beating with Daddy’s bloodstained walking stick?
Because Boris arrives today wearing an eye-patch he borrowed from Madonna.
Why should the Honourable Member for Cambridgeshire South bother crying her usual tears? Boris, when he gets here, will have everyone except himself in tears.
Why do the Chairs of Select Committees race up and down Whitehall wearing only ceremonial dicky-bows quoting passages from the Magna Carta and the new Ann Widdecombe cookbook into the surprised faces of tourists?
Why have the Speaker of the House and Lord Privy Seal exhumed from Westminster Abbey the bones of Alfred Lord Tennyson and dragged them to a cheap hotel near Waterloo to engage in a rattly threesome?
Because Boris arrives today and approves of such things.
And why doesn’t the Office for National Statistics give us the latest disastrous news? Because Boris arrives today and is bored by people who can add and subtract.
What does this sudden outbreak of accountants and High Court Judges vomiting on each other mean? How grey their jowls have grown. Why have all the escalators stopped moving? Why all the red buses crashing into the Thames?
Because the clock has rung and Boris is not coming. Some journalists formerly resident in Hell but now working for the Telegraph have been sent from the frontline to confirm there is no Boris.
And now what will we become without Boris? We must urgently set about inventing some other catastrophe to rescue us from ourselves.