In our first interview of the week, we talk to Galway poet & critic, Kevin Higgins.
How long have you been writing? I started writing in very late 1995.
What was your first publication? My first published poem appeared in the June 1996 issue of Poetry Nottingham.
What have been the most significant developments, negative and positive if you like, in poetry in Ireland over the last 10 years or so? I think it’s way more open, more various, in terms of styles of poetry, than was the case ten years ago. The negative would be networking: fifteen years ago magazines like The Burning Bush* and, say, Metre, used to actually say stuff, be a place where arguments could take place; my favourite is the Burning Bush article in which Mike Begnal quite validly compared me to the late great Norman Podhoretz. Of late people tend to spend a lot of time ‘liking’ each other’s Facebook posts or doing P.R. blog posts about each other’s books; all well and good but so often no one actually says anything. It’s all a bit banal, a kind of literary version of mutual masturbation without the pleasure. It has improved a little of late with the Burning Bush 2 and, also, the advent of Skylight 47 magazine here in Galway, which is shaping up to be a nicely opinionated publication.
What do you think needs to happen, and what would you like to see happen, in Irish poetry over the next few years? See above: I think we need more arguments in which people compare each other to the late great Norman Podhoretz.
We often hear in Ireland about the pull of either Boston or Berlin: are we European writers in the English language or are we wholly steeped in the Anglosphere? I think we’re very Anglosphere, mostly. Speaking personally, I’ve written poems ‘after’ Elizabeth Bishop, Padraig Pearse, Alexander Pope, Charles Simic, Simon Armitage, Fleur Adcock…I would, say, for me the poetry that most sparks interest is that which falls somewhere between the strange world of Charles Simic’s poems and the satirical poets of the English 17th & 18th centuries. Both Charles Simic’s work and the poetry of the period after the English Civil War are full of the sense that, whether or not the world should change, it will and not always for the better.
Finally, if you had to recommend one regular poetry event in Ireland to someone, what would it be? There are many. I’m biased, obviously, but will speak from my experience as a poet rather than as an organiser. One really great event is North West Words in Letterkenny. Always a good crowd; the host Eamonn Bonner is a great guy, absolutely genuine. On the other hand, I read at an event back in 2010, on the weekend the IMF arrived in Ireland. I was on the bill with singer-songwriter Julie Feeney. But the organisers seemed not to have told anyone much about it. Eventually, about 15 people showed up, including myself and Julie. There was also a small dog, belonging to one of the audience, who got loose and while Julie Feeney was playing, said dog proceeded to pee against the stool on which Julie was sitting. A special moment. All in all, though, I preferred Donegal.
*The Burning Bush was a print magazine, published in Galway from 1998 to 2004, edited by poets Michael S. Begnal & Kevin Higgins. When we were setting up the Burning Bush 2, Michael & Kevin kindly agreed to let us approximate the name.
Kevin Higgins’ most recent collection of poetry, Frightening New Furniture, was published in 2010 by Salmon Poetry. His fourth collection, The Ghost in the Lobby, will be published by Salmon in 2014. Kevin is co-organiser of Over the Edge literary events in Galway and was co-editor of the first four issues of the original Burning Bush.