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Saturday 29th January 1994

Goddess on the Mervue Bus; Witch in the Bushes; Philomena's Revenge (Salmon)

Some poets achieve that distinctive stylisation of matter and manner known as voice at an early age: for others, it's a life-long evolution or a series of revisions. These three Rita Ann Higgins reissues serve to remind us how swiftly this poet established her own idiom, and hint at the difficulty of whither next? 

It's a terse, challenging and at best unsentimental voice, grounded in the vernacular of a working-class milieu - housing-estates, factories, buses: the voice, sometimes, of a friendly heckler:

Hey you! Wearers of brown acrylic pullovers,
a yellow stripe across your chestbone
means your mother is still alive,
think not of other people's undertones
of milk-white flesh, of touching thighs.
AnCo never trained you for this.
                                   ("The Apprentices")

Like Paul Durcan, Higgins can deftly snatch a line from mass culture ("Mona doesn't die here/any more"); she also takes a Durcanish stand on religious hypocrisy - the Jehovah's Witnesses in "God Dodgers Anonymous", an uncharitable nun in the brilliant "Jackdaw Jaundice". Sometimes, especially in the later books, she is tempted to stretch a point beyond its natural life-span, or widen the political or social comment into generalisation. Her greatest resonance lies in characterisation, in the small-scale and the close to home, where the real risks are taken.




Rita Ann Higgins


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