As a poet I have a dark secret. It’s a problem I have when it comes to the reading of poetry. It’s not that I don’t read poetry or can’t. I do and I can. But I have to admit that the reading of a lot of contemporary poetry is something close to a chore. If I can just get to the end, I tell myself, I can read something else with a clear conscience. Too often, amongst the pages of poetry, I am overwhelmed by feelings of irrelevance. What the hell am I doing in the middle of this polite parlour game? Fortunately, though, there are poets that can be read with, even, as sense of anticipation and fortunately for me as a reviewer Kevin Higgins is one of these. In this book of essays we get to see just why that is so and get to see, beyond his essays, just why his poetry is so invigorating. Quite simply, the writings of Kevin Higgins manage to make poetry seem important.
How do you go about reviewing or criticizing a book about reviews and criticism with out boring people or repetition, you don’t, you go down another route and ask yourself what has this book done for you and what could it do for a potential reader?
I'm a fan of books and authors who compile their essays, reviews and memoirs etc. together into one book for a particular reason and the same reason why you as a reader should purchase books in this category and that is quite simply, to educate yourself and come away learning about new things (in this case for me, writers and poets I had never heard of) also to have a laugh at someones expense and to cringe or get angry at the reviewers opinion.
Kevin Higgins is a well known clever and witty poet and also known for sharing his opinion honestly and as straightforward as a flying arrow. His new book launched by Salmon Poetry is Mentioning the War
a collection of his best reviews and essays from 1999 up to 2011 and the book also includes a couple of intimate memoirs which are quite heartwarming and engaging.
When I attended a packed house for Kevin's book launch, I was unsure whether I would purchase a book that was mostly about the ranting a raving of politics, yet to my surprise, I picked up the book and the first page I opened was the review of 'The Lost World of Francis Ledwidge, The Ledwidge Treasury - Selected Poems' which coincidentally was the exact book I had in my bag, now there was a sign, so I purchased the book and dove in head first.
As expected, the book pulls punches and over the years Higgins has worn the gloves and let rip left and right. Through out the book his reviews are challenging yet informative with plenty of analysis on everything political and social and his views of left wing politics is where he is at his most critical and often wittiest.
For someone like myself who is Apolitical, I knew it would be a challenge to read and finish a book that is mostly based on political views and criticism, but as stated above, there is always a goal to reading books of this caliber and a reason why I always recommend books such as this, and it is in his book reviews and cultural discussions where you can benefit and indulge in unique knowledge and information Kevin can bring through his prose style writing and reviewing.
Take for instance, I am a huge fan of Asian poets, modern to classical, Japanese and Chinese, but I know nothing of South Korean writers or have ever read a poem by a Korean poet. In a review of AZALEA - Journal of Korean Literature & Culture you are opened in to a new world of poetry, fiction, essays and memoirs of Korean writers which lead me to surfing the net and been introduced to some fine new writers and on to Amazon for some book purchasing.
This is the case through out the book, a review of mainstream love hotel by Todd Swift, someone I had never heard of before was an inspiring read and another introduction to writers unknown in my little world.
Add the writer Visar Zhiti and his collection of poetry 'The Condemned Apple', a collection Higgins describes as 'the most disturbing collection of poetry I ever read' and with that said, you are already intrigued. Kevin brings to light, a poet born in the Soviet Union from the 1950s and gives the account and surrounding circumstances that Zhiti was trying to write and publish his first collection of poetry which makes for engaging intriguing reading.
The review is one of my favourite in this book and has introduced me yet again to another quite brilliant poet and again I await for my book delivery by Amazon.
There are plenty of excellent reviews here of Christopher Hitchens, Micheal D Higgins, David Solway, Maureen Gallagher and even Ruairi Quinn who feels the leather of the left hook and is described by Higgins hilariously here 'As a writer, he is dull beyond belief' and that is the mild mannered beginning of the review.
Though I admit is struggled through most of the political writings, it is in certain essays such as 'Culture and Recession' (the state of funding for the arts in Ireland) 'The Poetry Reading Escapes From The Victorian Drawing Room' ( an interesting must read on the debate about performance poetry and the growing movement in Ireland) and my favourite 'All Poetry's Children Under One Wide Roof' (his journey with his wife Susan in setting up the Over the Edge readings in Galway and the contribution it gives to the community) are all essays that need to be read and enjoyed.
Reading essays by Higgins such as the examples above are necessary, inspiring, educational and will leave you thinking for the day. This book is highly recommended due to the wide selection of topics and the wit and bite of Higgins with his straightforward honesty. As I said, use this book to laugh, to cringe, to scream 'Did he really say that' to be informed, educated but also to get to know the writer and poet Kevin Higgins.
His first two essay/memoirs 'Back Home To Ireland' and 'And No One Knew His Name', though they sort of stick out like a sheep amongst a pack of wolves, are remarkably intimate and personally engaging, stories about the poets mother and his childhood which are both touching and inspiring. 'And No One Knew His Name' made me think of my own childhood, growing up as a boy in North Dublin and inspired me to pen my own memoir/short story.
There really is a lot going on in 'Mentioning the War' that you as a reader will be most pleasantly satisfied, opinions you may agree or disagree with, that could have you enraged or enthralled, either way you will enjoy this book and come away with knowledge and opinions of your own. I highly recommend this book, and that’s coming from an Apolitical couldn't care less about politics man but sure, there you go.