Review: by Des Kenny, The Galway Advertiser, 7th October 2010
TAKING US from the harsh realities of Baile Crua to the cautious serenity of the Spiddal bogs, Rita Ann Higgins' new book Hurting God - part essay, part rhyme
(Salmon) is a short but intense spiritual autobiography.
Starting with the sentence: "The changes are going to be great in Baile
Crua," Rita Ann immediately, and without apology, sets out her stall in
her normal uncompromising fashion and if Mary Coughlan's 'Delaney Is
Back On The Wine' was our introduction to the Shantalla Blues, Rita
Ann’s Goddess on the bus to Eyre Square could well be the anthem of the
The structure of this 70 odd page memoir is unusual, not to say novel,
in that a short essay precedes the 10 poems therein. The essays contain
most of the autobiographical material while the poems mark the inner
reaction of the now mature poet. In their own way, the essays are yet
another description of a frightened and confused girl seeking her own
identity and who, through the strength of her own personality and the
love of people close to her, comes to terms with her childhood and
rebellion, finding a sense of personal fulfilment through her art.
However, the real power of the book is in the poems. In them we witness
the poet’s spiritual growth (which occurs almost despite herself).
Initially imbued by Catholic guilt, the first poems in the collection
are redolent of helplessness, fear, uncertainty and darkness.
Despite this sense of hopelessness, a familial warmth emerges,
especially in one of the finest poems in the collection written
surprisingly first in Irish, 'An Teanga Eile', and then translated into
English. The sheer simplicity and music of this poem, along with the
driving beat of the lines, give it a power that leaves the reader
breathless. So much so that the author’s English translation, while good
in itself, goes nowhere near having the same effect.
The next two poems demonstrate the Rita Anne spikiness we have come to
love as the teenager and young adult struggle to find their place in the
world. 'Be Someone' has the same wonderful energy of 'An Teanga Eile'
as the teenager recoils under the ceaseless admonitions of her elders.
In 'When The Big Boys Pulled Out', the young adult becomes more
independent finding her way in a brash new society that is as artificial
as it is promising, The unsure freedom of rebellion and independence is
soon compromised by personal illness and the loss of a sibling. The
short poem 'Unadorned', describing the arrival of her brother's corpse
in Shannon Airport is deeply moving:
In a room in Shannon Airport
where no one lived,
we looped the box
he came home in
a box with a number
none of us knew.
Recovery is at hand however through love as symbolised by the power of
the hug and poetic creation, a serious spiritual self emerges that
finally finds that cautious serenity in Spiddal, cautious because the
Higgins aesthetic is always waiting for what is around the corner. The
essays and poems were written at night after the visits to “Himself” who
was being treated for cancer add to their poignancy. The book is a
courageous testament as Higgins lays her heart and soul bare and she
does so with a wonderful inner strength and a total honesty.
extraordinary statement bearing witness to a life fearlessly and fully
lived. It is a volume of poetry with a serious Galway accent and, to
coin the phrase of an erstwhile Woodquay shopkeeper is "mighty, on'y
Rita Ann Higgins, along with poets
Aideen Henry and Glenn Shea, will read at Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop, this
Saturday 9th October (2010) at 6pm. Refreshments will be served and all are welcome