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25th January 1997

Sara Berkeley on new work from two Irish poets

Women in and out of love

Sunny Side Plucked (Bloodaxe)

Rita Ann Higgins's New and Selected Poems, is a river of stories and portraits. From the outset, with it's cheerful dedication to her twelve siblings, there is a sense of plenty to go round. It is the best of times and it is the worst of times in Higgins's poetry. She is a town-crier of modern hardship: the urban scourages of drink, unemployment, the breadline, the life on the hire purchase system looms large in the poems, which are also lit up by the funny, affectionate moments in life, and by her odd, secret way of seeing.

Higgins offers gems of the truly bizarre: the butcher who wants to shout "Lapis, Lazuli Lapis Lazuli", but says something banal instead: the witch in herself who wants to scramble an American man's eggs. The book is a slice of life, full of the kinds of things people are always saying and doing, which she gets so right. There is so much direct speech it's like an anthropologist's treasure chest: here, in these pages, is how Irish people spoke in the 1990s.

Some of the poems are too raw, and some don't live up to the single good idea of the title (such as "I Want to Sleep with Kim Basinger"). But her lovely, quick insights into the human heart - a man saying to his wife as they make love "Gloria love, Gloria/let on I'm tall" - and her unhesitating, funny, gritty exposition of the viscera of life, more than make up for the few weeds that should have been pulled. Higgins, in her own words, is "cross-legged on a lonely molar", and I salute her with delight.

Sara Berkeley lives in California where she works as a technical writer, her most recent collection of poetry, Facts about Water, was published in 1994



Rita Ann Higgins


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