Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Interview with Galway Poet Kevin Higgins

Continuing my repostings of interviews for January, here's Kevin Higgins whose next collection of poetry, The Ghost in The Lobby, will be published in February 2014, Salmon.
Kevin Higgins the well known Galway poet graciously agreed to be interviewed about his journey to poetry and about the well known Poetry nights under the Over the Edge banner.

Thanks very much for agreeing to this interview and welcome to writing.ie. Could you introduce yourself to the readers please?
I was born in London in 1967 to Irish parents (both of whom were originally from County Galway). We moved back to Galway (City) in 1974; so I grew up mostly here. From the age of 15-27, I was an active member of Militant, the predecessor to Joe Higgins’s Socialist Party, both here in Galway and then later in London, where I was very involved in the anti-poll tax movement in the early nineties. I was chair of the local branch of the campaign Enfield Against The Poll Tax.
I moved back to Galway in 1994 and began writing poetry in late 1995. I’ve published three collections of poetry, ‘The Boy With No Face’ (Salmon, 2005); ‘Time Gentlemen, Please’ (Salmon, 2008) and ‘Frightening New Furniture’ (Salmon, 2010). I also have some poems in the Bloodaxe anthology, edited by Roddy Lumsden,Identity Parade: New British and Irish Poets’ (2010).

With my wife, Susan Millar DuMars, I co-organise Galway City’s literary events organisation, Over The Edge. I teach creative writing at Galway Technical Institute, at Westside Library locally and on the Brothers of Charity ‘Away With Words’ programme. I facilitate a range of poetry workshops at Galway Arts Centre, have been Writer-in-Residence at Merlin Park Hospital since 2007 and am the poetry critic of The Galway Advertiser. I am, as you can see, far too busy most of the time.
How did you first get into poetry?
The impending world revolution I’d been hoping for had failed to materialise and I’d come face to face with the reality that most of the organisations on the far political left, such as the one I’d been a member of, were/are very dodgy outfits in terms of the way they run their affairs. 1995 was a kind of delayed ‘gap year’ for me.

I began writing poetry in late 1995 immediately after the divorce referendum campaign, in which I was very involved on the Yes side. I collapsed with a terrible flu at the end of that. And that was it, active politics was over for me from then on really. A man called Andy Johnston had lent me a computer. I started writing on that. The poems were terrible, of course. But I had great fun and took what I was doing immensely seriously. Maureen Gallagher, another Galway poet, gave me a book called ‘The Penguin Book of The Beats’ for my twenty ninth birthday in April 1996. And I was away, writing poems and reading poetry anthologies fairly voraciously too. I also wrote a novel, a couple of plays and even a few screen plays. But it was always the poetry I came back to.

What do you consider the highlights so far?

I would say being included in Roddy Lumsden’s anthology ‘Identity Parade: New British & Irish Poets’ (Bloodaxe, 2010). I remember buying the predecessor to that anthology ‘The New Poetry’ (Bloodaxe, 1993) just after I’d started writing. That was a big one. Having a poem published in The Irish Times last year. Going to read in places like New York, Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, West Virginia, Washington DC and Athens. Athens in 2008 was particularly magical. Having one of my poems, ‘Letter To A Full Time Revolutionary’, quoted on The Guardian website during the financial crash in 2008…
Tell us a bit about the Over the Edge and how it started?

It was Susan’s idea; she felt that there weren’t enough reading platforms for new writers in Galway. The Over The Edge: Open Readings in Galway City Library have from the beginning maintained the format of three featured readers, plus an open-mic with a limit of (usually) eight readers reading one poem each. Susan is the ideas person, I’m the executioner, as it were. It was a simply idea, like all the best ones.

What do you think about the perceived split in poems for the stage and for the page?

There is a genuine issue, but most of what has been written about this is hypocritical rubbish. There have been, and continue to be, those who attack poetry slams and open-mics (and the poetry which emerges from them) for no other reason than that they have personal grievances against the organisers of said poetry slams and open-mics. There have been those who have joined in with these attacks having themselves competed in poetry slams repeatedly. One of the sad, little bands that make up what might be called the ‘anti-slam party’ actually accepted the job of judging a major poetry slam a while ago. These people make a lot of noise but could be counted on the fingers of one hand, with some spare fingers left over. They are not to be taken seriously.

This might come as a surprise to you, but I have no interest at all in ‘stage’ poetry which doesn’t also work on the page. If the work is all performance and no interesting new metaphors, no startling little similes, then however groovy your sunglasses are, I’d rather read The Financial Times. The new poets who interest me most, people such as Elaine Feeney, Sarah Clancy, Mary Madec, Dave Lordan and Colm Keegan (to name just a few) are those whose poetry works on both levels. I think that these poets are the real new movement in contemporary Irish poetry. In contrast, poets who don’t rigorously workshop their poems or submit their work to magazines, but just read at open-mics and slams always seem to me to end up producing poems that are way too long and full of bombast and air. The literary equivalent of flatulence. They are almost always male.
But, as I say, those poets who manage to both write well and perform well are hugely interesting to me.
What advice would you give to new writers now?

Work on your writing, then send it out; read it to an audience any chance you get and take any constructive feedback you get. If someone suggests a way you can make a poem or story better, then take that advice very seriously. If on the other hand you encounter destructive feedback, the only purpose of which is to discourage you from writing at all, then smile and thank the person in question but never ever listen to another word they say. When a friend of yours wins a competition you also entered be GENUINELY happy for them. Jealousy will destroy you, if you let it in the door at all.

What magazines, poets, presses and/or online sites do you read regularly and recommend?

I love Magma magazine, based in London, also the Upstart.ie website, the brainchild of Kit Fryatt and co. The Irish Left Review website is becoming an important literary outlet, which says something about the times we’re living in. A favourite poet of mine would be Charles Simic, but I also love the Augustan poets of the 18th Century, Swift and Pope and co. In terms of presses, I have to say Salmon, but I mean it too. Jessie Lendennie does amazing work. And Bloodaxe for all the great anthologies they do.
What have you got coming up both at Over the Edge and for yourself?
I have a collection of my essays and book reviews, ‘Mentioning The War,’ coming out early next year from Salmon. Susan and I are going to do some readings in Australia in November, which should be great.

In terms of Over The Edge, we have our first Over The Edge: Open Reading after the summer break on August 25th. Clare Pollard is one of the readers. Very much looking forward to hearing her. That same evening we’ll also be announcing the shortlist for this year’s Over The Edge New Writer of The Year competition; the judge this year is Elaine Feeney. Later on the in the Autumn we have our third annual Fiction Slam, at which the Featured Reader (and one of the judges) will be Emer Martin. That’s always a highlight.


Unknown said...

Very interesting interview and also quite educational to beginners, it's always a pleasure to get Kevin's take on anything involving politics, poetry or the politics of poetry.

Emerging Writer said...

Thanks for dropping by Clifton. Kevin is always worth a read, especially when he's shaking things up!