If this boy had been more prudently dropped into life on, say, a street with trees that throw out their annual yellow to make a welcome parade for the sun; had as childhood neighbours a Circuit Court judge whose front door had no letterbox, a Garda Chief Inspector with an opinionated and over-confident dog; kicked a ball up and down summer evenings, dead apart from the occasional well-behaved bee, with the boy next door (but one) who blossomed into a political correspondent and now gets to make up truth, another way would’ve been found.
But for coming at Gardaí with a chemical imbalance, what some people are calling a machete and a totally inappropriate postcode, the only sentence was that ethically administered, democratically accountable, bolt-action firing squad.
The eminent and learned bottoms we employ to sit on the inquiry into this need not fret the task ahead of them. For their report is already written.
When Henry Kissinger again fails to die: Another tree in the Central Highlands loses all its leaves A girl sits on a visiting diplomat’s lap Someone organises a Nelson Rockefeller lookalike party Which Henry Kissinger attends An election result somewhere is declared null and void for its own good An interrogating officer switches on the electricity A government spokesman interrupts his denial to wish Dr Kissinger well Another tin of Heinz baked beans is sold in China And the CEO personally thanks Henry Kissinger A ginger cat named Agent Orange leaps down off the garden wall A baby slides from the womb with a surprise third arm.
When Henry Kissinger again fails to die: A ginger cat named Agent Orange leaps back onto its garden wall A government we didn’t like is overthrown in a military coup, Welcomed by the European Union A hut is set on fire for the greater good, The European Union calls for an inquiry Someone dies of politically necessary starvation But that someone is never Henry Kissinger A bomb is dropped on someone whose name you’ll never have to pronounce Because it’s not Henry Kissinger.
For its birthday, a baby gets Spina bifida A Bengali family have all their arms sawn off. Fifty bodies topple into the sea off Indonesia But none of them are Henry Kissinger Each time Henry Kissinger again fails to die.
Next election onwards, there’ll be a second vote for those who turn up with, under their arm, a print copy of one of the larger newspapers and answer a few unobtrusive questions to prove they’ve consumed it correctly.
A third for those who also present receipts that show they’ve dined sufficiently in restaurants with at least four stars, and a note from the maître d that they know their way around the cutlery.
A fourth for the lucky few in possession - to boot - of a ticket for one of those pampering spas at which one temporarily discards worldly things to have one’s darker parts irrigated of all subversive thoughts.
So when all’s said and counted, people who shouldn’t matter can go back to not mattering.
Each witch hunt is a tribute act to the last. There is always a committee of three. The gravity in the room is such they struggle to manoeuvre the enormity of their serious faces in the door.
Except in the TV version, there is hardly ever a microphone. Though they will usually give you a glass of water and, if you ask, tea in a slightly chipped cup.
The better quality of witch hunt will provide you with a plate of sandwiches which, these days, would likely include coeliac and vegan options.
One member of the panel interviewing you is always a man with a shakey voice who obviously doesn’t know what he’s doing. His wife thinks he’s at the garden centre.
Another is a woman trying on a posh accent for size who looks like she’s dreaming of killing you in some way that would give her special pleasure.
It is written, somewhere deeper than law, that no such committee shall ever be constituted unless it contains at least one ex-hippy.
There is always the moment when a pile of typed pages emerge from an already opened envelope, and one of them asks you: how, then, do you explain this?
And the three of them sit there, pretending it’s a real question.
And you realise this committee is history paying you the huge compliment of making you (and people like you) the only item on the agenda;
that in asking you about what you said, did, or typed on the mentioned dates, they reveal themselves like the black tree at the bottom of the garden that only shows its true self in winter.
The poem is inspired by all the various witchunting committees I have faced since I became an activist, joining the Irish Labour Party in 1982 at the age of 15. I was expelled from the UK Labour Party in 1991, having been investigated by the British Labour Party in 1989, 1990-91, and, before that, by the Irish Labour Party in 1988. I was suspended from the British Labour Party in 2016 and apparently remain suspended, or may even have been expelled again? Or maybe not. My local branch of Labour International says I am still a member. But Labour HQ won't confirm this, though I have asked them to. And I didn't receive a ballot for the recent Leadership and NEC elections.
Kevin Higgins (centre) as Chair of Galway West Labour Youth in April 1984
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.