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  REVIEWS

Rita Ann Higgins is a poet of the present tense. If her first collection Goddess on the Mervue Bus were to capture any more of the character, of the quirks, of the desperation of this island - and the West in particular - she would have to have published a telephone-directory-sized volume complete with the Birth Certificates and Curricula Vitae of all the people who (consciously or unconsciously) compelled her to put pen to paper. Ever, Life lived to the backdrop of supermarket clatter, pub talk, Galway-speak, and factory chant is reproduced in a musical rather than rhythmical style that seems not uninfluenced by the socially-involved 'sub-cultures' of the 60's and early 70's.

But the past 25 years have given us more than music:

You put Valium on a
velvet cushion
in the form of a
juicy, red apple,

"Ode to Rahoon Flats" reminds. Elsewhere other aspects of our enslavement to the new culture are highlighted, sometimes to great effect, as in "Mona"

she was a coupon saver,
she saved them
but they never saved her.

 More light-heartedly in the tale of "Lizzie Kavanagh" and her "maroon imitation fur" coat, a commuter between Quinnsworth and the bingo session via the Shantalla bus.

However, Higgins walks a thin line occasionally when it comes to an unveiling moment at the close of a poem. As in the case of "The Long Ward", a poem breathing with life and precise observation "In the long ward/silvermints are/shared and returned/with photographs of/'My second eldest'/or 'This one is in Canada'." where the line "pain well out of sight" suddenly, almost bathetically, returns us to the mundane, attempts to explain something that the poem has already managed to convey. These are the kind of lines that confidence only can erase, and it is hardly necessary to say that the achievement of many other of the poems in this collection is certain to provide that confidence and self-assurance. For instance, "Secrets,"

Keep well clear of burning bushes,
investigative mothers-in-law
with egg-shell slippers
and Dundee cake.

a poem which creates an uneasy atmosphere of jocularity mingled with paranoia.

Ultimately, Rita Ann Higgins succeeds admirably in juxtaposing the humorous and the tragic elements of everyday life. Her success can be measured by the degree of unease she instills in the reader who finds himself confronted with a very real and frightening situation which he has, up to that point, found himself amused by.

When this happens, when the socially-conscious poet manages to reflect life without blatantly manipulating the 'facts', the 'events', then we have a poet whose work should be watched carefully, as carefully as one might read the newspapers, listen to friends, count the grey hairs. The poems in this collection if they are not mirrors are, at least, well-focused photographs of the world.

PAT BORAN

 

 

Rita Ann Higgins

rahiggins@eircom.net

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