In Ecstatic, the personal and the political are intertwined in the most profound of senses. In this book, it is the political world we must live in, love in, make love in, grow old in, die in. It is in this world that we lose hope, over and over, only for hope to painfully re-emerge and insist we fight and dream again.
And the IRA campaign in Britain was intense in the West Midlands at that time. I learned to play the button accordion in lessons I took at the Kerryman’s Club, which was a big gathering point for the Irish in Coventry. The only tune I ever really learned off by heart was Roddy McCorley, also sometimes called Sean South of Garryowen. I only played the tune, and the words weren’t sung. The original words of Roddy McCorley were replaced by those of the new version Sean South, in memory of an IRA volunteer of that name who was killed in a clash with the RUC during the IRA’s unsuccessful 1957 border campaign. I am sure I must have played that tune for at least a couple of MI5 agents who had to have been in attendance at the Kerryman’s Club in those years, if they were doing their job.
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:
Marxism is something I spent several years actively trying to get away from. But couldn’t. Precisely because the ideas that dominate the mostly middle class poetry world, in which I have been immersed for two decades, are so absurd in comparison. It is precisely because of this lack of intellectual seriousness, which looks increasingly obscene set against events; not to mention its by product: the almost comical chancerism and opportunism which literary liberals call “networking”, that has led me to start acting and thinking in an overtly Marxist way again, since around or about 2014.