Taking a satirical scalpel to the body politic

Kevin Higgins. Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

Kevin Higgins. Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

"THE BEST satire has always been militantly about the present," declares Galway poet and critic Kevin Higgins, who turns his witty, devilishly humorous, eye and words upon Alan Kelly, Irish Water, Official Ireland, and Jeremy Corbyn’s enemies, in a new collection.

2016 - The Selected Satires of Kevin Higgins, a collection of satirical political poems, have been published by Nuascélta, and will be launched in the Galway City Library on Thursday February 18 at 6.30pm by MEP Luke Ming Flanagan. The poems were inspired mostly by events in Irish and European politics over the last 18 months, and feature ‘Irish Air: A Message from The CEO’, a satire on the "soon to be terminated black comedy that is Irish Water"; satires on Denis O’Brien, Enda Kenny, and "the Minister for Homelessness", Alan Kelly; a thought provoking dissection of Islamophobic attitudes in 'The Islamisation of Bermingham'; "our nation’s real leader", Angela Merkel; and the deserved ridiculing of Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents in the media and within his own party.

"Ever since the water charges protests broke out, I’ve found myself writing poems which, in a very direct way, address what is going on in Ireland and elsewhere," Kevin tells me. "All these poems are of their time. And it seemed timely to get them out there in book form while the issues they address are still hot."

Poetry is not usually considered a place for satire, or even humour, indeed its presence within verse and metre makes a certain kind of writer/critic deem it unfit to be called poetry. Such an attitude, although it exists, ignores the fact that satire has a distinguished presence within the poetic tradition, going back to Alexander Pope and Ireland's Jonathan Swift, and even further, to Roman writers like Juvenal and Ovid. Humour is essential to Kevin's work, and he declares Pope, Dryden, and Swift, "all very witty writers", to be among his major influences.

"I don’t think that, historically, poetry has been always, or even mostly, humourless," he says. "There is a tendency, more recently, for the small, well made, humourless poem to predominate. There is an idea that being a bit of a bore, knowing sod all about politics, and having an obsequious attitude to those who think of themselves as your betters, are essential to being a poet. Clearly, if judged on those criteria, I am always going to lose out."

However, with the rise of the internet as a serious publishing platform, it is "easier to find an audience".

"Jaded arts administrators, locked in their offices, can no longer stop you," says Kevin. "Obviously, they can limit you, by pretending that satire is putting Paul Durcan on a big stage and gathering bejewelled liberals of a certain vintage about him to collectively laugh at the Ireland of the 1970s and early 1980s. The best satire has always been militantly about the present.

"The media, the arts establishment, academia, politics are full of people who pretend to be against things like children going to school hungry, and Syrians drowning off Greece. And they are against these things, in theory. But anyone in Ireland who can still say the words “Our European partners”, without cracking a smirk, is in reality pretty OK with hungry school children and drowned Syrians. Hypocrisy has always been my pet hate. Given the amount of it around in Official Ireland at the moment, it’s a weed that needs to be torn up, so something else can grow in its place."

Nonetheless, while Kevin's work has been widely published, enjoyed much critical acclaim, and a number of his poems have been included in anthologies, his use of humour, wit, and satire can breed resistance.

"On an aesthetic level, there are some who genuinely hate the kind of things I write, but I welcome their hatred as the best possible compliment," he says, before adding mischievously, "I am sure when both I, and those I’ve mocked in poems, are safely in our graves, hack administrators with bad haircuts will start to name things after me; festivals, blocks of flats, public toilets. The least they could do is erect a 200 foot tall statue of me in the middle of Eyre Square."

Kevin's targets are all very deserving of his satiric ire, but in a world where, in spite of the setback he suffered at the Iowa caucus, Donald Trump is by no means finished as a political force, is it really possible to satirise anything? "Trump, I cannot satirise. He does that so exquisitely himself " says Kevin, "but a world in which Tony Blair and Mick Hucknall still breathe; and Fintan O’Toole thinks David Drumm should be set free, is a world ripe for ridicule."

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