Poetry that causes a
racket by Una Sinnott
The shocking occurrences that are passed off as normal, the
intermingling of private and public life, and the humiliation that
accompanies poverty are all themes tackled by Rita Ann Higgins in
her newly published volume of poetry, An Awful Racket.
From its irreverent
cover to the closing seven-part account of life on social welfare,
this collection finds humour in the often-overlooked minutiae of
existence, without detracting from the gravity of her subject
matter. An Awful Racket is the seventh collection from this
prolific Ballybane-based writer who, despite leaving formal
education at the age of 16 (though she later returned to study for
diplomas in women's studies and Irish) received a Green Honours
Professor Award in Texas last year, and is now represented on the
English curriculum at Yale University.
attending writing workshops in 1982 while recovering from TB it
was either that or flower arranging, she recalls ó and hasn't
looked back since.
Much of her work is a
reflection of modern suburbia, her own life in Ballybane being a
major influence which comes through in her writing. "I
suppose I am influenced by my environment," she concedes.
"It's what you see and hear every day." Higgins' poetry
often juxtaposes the two prevailing attitudes within families, the
'what-will-the-neighbours-say' and the
'to-hell-with-the-neighbours' schools of thought. She can deal
equally well with the need for a decent public image ("She's
pregnant by a married man/After all the money I spent on dancing
lessons.") (The extension means more than space,/her status
will rise in the estate/so it was written in the bingo
book."), and the desire of some people to make an exhibition
of themselves ("We're going to see the flasher/'any takers'
was the catch cry/we went, we saw/none of us said much/only,
what's on him?/The lads said he was a sissy.").
In The Jugglers
Higgins describes the constant struggle of raising a family on
welfare, along with the humiliation that one is made to feel by
asking for financial assistance. Her portrayal of poverty is
"The kids want the food they see on telly.
I say telly isn't real,
when the ads are on I turn the telly off,
mind you it's wearing me out.
Tanya says mammies on the telly are nicer than me
even though she's only four
I feel hurt, I know I'm too hard on them.
I have to watch the food,
I'm on food patrol
and when they bring their friends in
I have to say spare the bread,
It kills me to have to say that to them.
It makes me feel mean."
Far removed from ostentation or the desire to appeal to an
academic minority, Higgins' language is easy, everyday, and
colloquial. Her poetry enjoys wide appeal as a result of this. An
Awful Racket will appeal to poetry lovers, and to those who
perhaps feel that modern verse is out of their depth.
Higgins plans to
concentrate on drama for the foreseeable future, though she says
she has no choice but to continue writing poetry as well. "I
don't think I have any choice in that," she claims.
"It's still going to happen."
Admirers of her work
can look forward to her new play later this year, enigmatically
entitled Down all the Roundabouts (or No-one is Entitled to a
View), this work centres on the massive increase in development in
Galway in recent years. "It's moving at a frightening
pace," she says.
Having already read
her work everywhere from Israel to Oxford to Mountjoy, Higgins
plans a number of readings closer to home this summer, including
Clifden, Sligo, and the Oscar Wilde Summer School. She will also
feature in a half-hour radio documentary for the BBC.
Though it can't be for
the money (poets receive very little as a rule), Higgins obviously
receives immense satisfaction from her work, which is evident from
her commitment to supporting the literary arts. She is a member of
the board of directors of Galway Arts Centre, and has been on the
advisory panel for Cúirt for the past two years.
This prolific poet
still attends the writing workshops which first fuelled her desire
to articulate her surroundings nearly 20 years ago. "I think
I would be in a position to encourage other writers," she
says of her role in the classes, "and it's always very
exciting when new voices come on the scene." .