Rochford Street Review was saddened to learn of the death of poet and activist Kevin Higgins on 10 January in Galway, Ireland.
Kevin was a great friend of the Review and we had maintained a regular correspondence over the past few years. His poetry combined technique with content and his biting political satire provoked impacts far beyond the poetry community. He was one of the few poets who had mastered the art of the political poem – often a reader would be carried along by his words and humour before suddenly realising that they were nodding and agreeing with what, they may have regarded only minutes before, as quite radical ideas.
He was supportive of other writers and poets and the large number of younger poets who have paid tribute to the impact he has had on their work is a testament to his role as a teacher and mentor. Along with his wife, fellow poet Susan Millar DuMars, Kevin set up a series of poetry readings called Over the Edge in January 2003- the 20th anniversary celebration later this month will also become a chance to remember Kevin (http://overtheedgeliteraryevents.blogspot.com/2023/01/over-edge-celebrates-20th-birthday-at.html).
In a media release shortly after Kevin’s death the President of Ireland, Michael Higgins (no relation) said:
It is with a great sense of sadness that all those who knew the poet Kevin Higgins, either in person or through his poetry, will have learned of his death. Brave and writing as he was right to the end.
Kevin was a poet who had read enormously widely of the work of poets writing in English, Irish and from different countries. His work includes that published by Salmon Poetry in collections such as ‘The Boy With No Face’, ‘Time Gentlemen, Please’, ‘Frightening New Furniture’, ‘The Ghost In The Lobby’ and ‘Sex and Death at Merlin Park Hospital’ – were valuable contemporary contributions that had a directness to it that was unsparing, but not at a cost of finely worked poems.
The partnership which he shared with his partner in writing, Susan Millar DuMars, saw them both working together in a way hard to surpass in terms of making a contribution to the arts through writing.
The link to the full statement is below.
During his final illness Kevin continued to write. He arranged with Declan Varley, from the Galway Advertiser, “to publish in poetic form … his regular musings on the reality of illness and hospitalisation”. The final poem, ‘I Always Thought I’d Live’, was published in The Galway Advertiser on 11 January in an article by Varley paying tribute to Kevin (https://www.advertiser.ie/galway/article/133495/kevin-higgins-final-poem-i-always-thought-id-live). We have reproduced the poem below.
I Always Thought I’d Live
I always thought I’d live to learn how to swim
do the backward butterfly to Olympic standard
and see trickle-down economics deliver
at least one albeit slightly polluted drop.
I always thought I’d live to learn how to drive,
win at least one Grand Prix motor racing championship
and see the Democrats legislate for free
universal health care.
I always thought I’d live to tidy
the books off the study floor
and see fascists give up
stabbing black boys at bus stops
because peaceful protests
have eloquently made them
see the error of their ways.
But the books that made me
still decorate the study floor
and I don’t have the oxygen to shift them.
My consultants are unanimous
my days marching to places like Welling
and Trafalgar Square are over.
The risk of getting tossed into the back of a police van
by over enthusiastic members of the constabulary
is a luxury my lungs can no longer afford.
Even holding a placard in my wheelchair
would soon have me gasping for breath.
And I thought I’d always live.
Rochford Street Review offers its condolences to Kevin’s wife Susan, to his family, to his students and to his many friends around the world.
Kevin Higgins in Rochford Street Review
Ecstatic by Kevin Higgins, Salmon Poetry 2022 was virtually launched by Zoom by Ailbhe Darcy on Sunday June 26th 2022. “The word ‘ecstatic’ – the title of Kevin Higgin’s new collection – comes from the Greek ‘ek-stasis’, meaning ‘to stand outside oneself’ – to be transported out of yourself altogether. And indeed, I’m beside myself with glee to have the honour of launching this book, the most complex and ambitious yet of Kevin’s six collections, appropriately enough in the out-of-body experience of a Zoom call”. (Issue 34 17 September 2022)
Kevin writes about poetry, poetry readings (including Over the Edge) politics and how they all intersect. Featuring a number of Kevin’s poems, (Issue 34. 28 June 2022).
Ciarán O’Rourke launches the pamphlet version of Thrills & Difficulties: Being a Marxist Poet in 21st Century Ireland (Beir Bua Press 2021) at Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop, Galway, Ireland on 8 September 2021. “It’s a delight to be able to join in the celebrations of Kevin Higgins’s stylish, urgent, and hell-raising new pamphlet tonight: in my experience, there’s nothing quite like it in the world of Irish poetry and literary criticism. If I were to distill down to a single element what I love, and what I believe is so necessary and unique, about Kevin’s work, it’s the wild and delicious ease (to be found in abundance in this pamphlet) in skewering the pieties of both the political and literary establishments: two formations which we’re often told are entirely separate, and have to kept this way, even as they become (in reality) more and more congealed into a single, somewhat monstrous entity.’ (Issue 32. 10 September 2021)
Kevin writes on poetry and politics and the challenges of being a political poet. He discusses a number of other poets actively writing in Ireland. (Issue 31 12 May 2021) This was also published in pamphlet form by Beir Bua Press: https://beirbuapress.com/2021/08/02/thrills-and-difficulties-being-a-marxist-poet-in-21st-century-ireland-by-kevin-higgins/
Three poems by Kevin Higgins. (Issue 30. 29 November 2020).
- Our Posh Liberal Friends
- For Eros, An Elegy
- The Bailiff’s Daughter
Molly Twomey launched Sex and Death at Merlin Park Hospital by Kevin Higgins at the House Hotel, Galway, Ireland on 14 June 2019. It’s an honour to launch Kevin Higgins’ latest collection, Sex and Death at Merlin Park Hospital. When Kevin asked me to do this, I wondered if it was a joke, but it’s a very Kevin thing to do. He has always been so generous to new writers, providing them with a platform through Over the Edge and consistent encouragement through his classes both in person and online. (Issue 28. 30 April 2020).
Sex and Death at Merlin Park Hospital by Kevin Higgins, Salmon Poetry 2019. “It is estimated that we, as a species, take fourteen trillion photos annually. These images can be photoshopped to make us look as perfect as any billboard model. In a short story by Borges, called ‘The Draped Mirrors’, a dislike of mirrors is explained as a precondition for narcissism. In Kevin Higgins’ fifth poetry collection, Sex and Death at Merlin Park Hospital, the deliberate draping of our collective mirrors by our political and religious representatives, our poets, and indeed the poet himself is examined through the piercing gaze of a satirist at the height of his powers”.
“I will start with a definition: neo-liberalism has nothing to do with being in favour of gay marriage, or abortion rights, or against castrating black boys for saying hello to white girls. It doesn’t care either way about any of that: what colour you are, who (or how) you screw, whether (or not) you’re a member of the Aryan Nation, and it absolutely could not give a shit about where you stand on the male-female spectrum. For neo-liberalism it is always and only about the money.” (Issue 27. 21 November 2019).