Editors’ note: These poems were submitted to Trasna on Christmas Day in 2022. We were incredibly touched that Kevin had thought of us, and terribly saddened to hear the news of his passing in early January. We regret that we weren’t able to reply in time to Kevin but have published this work and his photographs with kind permission from his wife, Susan Millar DuMars. “I Always Thought I’d Live” was first published by the Galway Advertiser. It was subsequently published by The Irish Times and other outlets. The poems “Congratulations” and “Dialectics of Irish” are published here exclusively.
after Zbigniew Herbert
A few will be obliterated
but in an nice way.
We don’t like the word
censorship, abolished it yonks ago.
Certain combinations of words must be nudged
to the bottom of the basket
until after we’ve all safely
choked to death in our dressing gowns.
they always find their way back out again.
Others, we can leave optional.
You know the drift:
the suffering of academics, their divorces
after the unfortunate incident with the student;
how it felt to phone the crematorium
to book a spot for their ninety-five-year-old father.
But for having so successfully helped it
deny its own existence
the regime has made you compulsory.
Your personage will be strapped
into an airplane seat, exported
to Asia and beyond,
like a Bangladeshi-made t-shirt in reverse.
You will be at service of the Diversity Department
of the International Happiness Corporation,
currently headquartering here for tax purposes.
Life will be mostly festivals
of enforced grinning,
during which you’ll pass the hours
counting each others’ teeth.
The Dialectics of Irish
after Francois Villon
There is no great starvation
without someone somewhere keeping the trout paté for later,
no t-bone steak at The Shelbourne (rare or well done)
without bales of straw being dragged through January mornings,
no plate of cabbage without the possibility
of an open safety pin camouflaged within it like a terrorist,
no refusal of a cup of tea
that’s not a potential resumption of hostilities,
no glass of high end whiskey
you can be sure the night porter
didn’t celebrate his departure
by lacing with high end Dublin piss –
though these days he’s mostly from Latvia or Killybegs –
no problem that can’t be made worse
by a pair of fashionable glasses whose big idea
is a poetry competition sponsored by Guinness
on the theme of black and white.
There is no Tá without Níl,
no no without the wink of other possibilities,
no card game that can’t finish up with everybody losing,
no peace talks to which the dead aren’t invited,
no ballot box in Leitrim without the ghost of an ArmaLite,
or the actual metal of a Heckler & Koch
Garda submachine gun in the hands of
a large farmer’s son from County Meath,
no pint of Guinness that can’t be made worse
by a poem about peace
shouted out by a pair of fashionable glasses.
There’s no wealth like empty office blocks,
no talent like the country’s least favourite novelist,
no generosity like an Anglo-Irishman taking
his ten gallon hat out for the evening,
no wisdom like a Leinster rugby fan
screeching for war with Russia,
no courage like informing,
no place in the minds of the nation’s keenest intellects
that exists less than Creggan, Ballymurphy, Crossmaglen…
and no poem about all this
that can’t be made more unpalatable
by a pair of fashionable glasses
trying to sell you the best of all possible
pints of what might be Guinness.
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.
In 2016 The Stinging Fly described Kevin Higgins as “likely the most read living poet in Ireland.” Kevin’s poems have been quoted in The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, The Times and The Daily Mirror, broadcast on BBC Radio Four, and read aloud by Ken Loach at a political meeting in London. His sixth full collection, Ecstatic, was published by Salmon in June 2022.