Kevin Higgins

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.

Though, worryingly, 

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 TelegraphThe IndependentThe 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.