KEVIN HIGGINS and Susan Millar DuMars are, after John Arden and Margaretta D’Arcy, Galway’s premiere literary couple and this weekend will see a joint launch of their new poetry collections.
Kevin’s Frightening New Furniture and Susan’s Dreams For Breakfast, both published by Salmon Poetry, will be officially launched in the Galway City Museum this Saturday at 1pm.
The pair met in 1999 and married a few years later. As well as being published writers, both host writing classes in the GTI and the Galway Arts Centre, and are the driving force behind Over The Edge, which hosts readings for established and emerging writers, as well as those who are unpublished.
Frightening New Furniture
Frightening New Furniture is Kevin’s third collection of poetry and finds him examining the man he was and the man he has become, from his days as a radical leftist in recession depressed Ireland, to someone who still feels he is on the Left, but who is unafraid to be critical of his own ‘side’, again in recession depressed Ireland.
“The title refers to me clearing out all the old political furniture in my head, feeling the loss of old certainties, and wondering what will replace them,” Kevin says. “I spent years hoping for the collapse of capitalism and now that it’s happened there is a lot of flux. What will arrive now? How to view the world now? I’m still trying to work those things out.”
Kevin’s previous collection Time Gentlemen, Please, in the poet’s own words “poked savage fun at my old friends on the Left”. These satiric themes continue, although they are more directed at the poet himself on this occasion. Yet to suggest Kevin has become the ‘Eoghan Harris of Galway poetry’, a former leftie gone right-wing, all bluster and rant and an embarrassing reactionary, is unfair.
As a result, it is significant that Red Banner, the socialist review magazine has praised Frightening New Furniture saying: “The Left should hurry to welcome this collection. Here is poetry that we can identify with” and it describes Kevin as “one of our own”.
Given that Kevin is sometimes a controversial figure for the Galway Left, it is little surprise he maintains a keen interest in Leon Trotsky, one of the great Communist intellectuals, who was despised by Stalin. Indeed Frightening New Furniture is prefaced by Trotsky’s quote: “Either the artist will make his peace with the darkness or he will perceive the dawn.”
“That is what I’m trying to do in this new collection, figure out where we are, and I am,” he says. “I don’t think any one person has all the answers but some people have some of the answers. Give me a room of 50 people with 50 different ideas over a room of seven people who all think the same any day. Any ideology has to be able to tolerate questioning by those within it and I won’t pretend there are no different viewpoints within the Left, just for the sake of Left unity.”
Dreams For Breakfast
While Kevin deals specifically with his political evolution and view of Irish society, Susan is examining her own ideals and personal history in her second collection Dreams For Breakfast.
Susan’s poetry is gentle and compassionate, but also thought provoking and savagely funny. The best examples of this are ‘I Dream Of Sarah Palin’ and ‘I Dream Of Stephen Fry’.
‘Sarah Palin’ sees the odious former Alaskan governor being interviewed on television, before having her head sliced “clean off” by a samurai sword, after which her “corpse sprouts a new head/and just keeps right on talking”.
“As an American it angers me the way she takes that ‘You betcha’, thumbs up, kitsch and appropriates it for her own political ends, when it belongs to all Americans, Democrat and Republican,” says Susan. “There will always be Obama’s America and the Palin/Bush America, but Obama, despite many people thinking of him as a saviour, he doesn’t pretend to have all the answers like Palin/Bush. That gives me hope. It’s a more ‘grown up’ way of dealing with politics.”
‘I Dream Of Stephen Fry’ is a wonderful celebration of the great English actor, writer, comic, director, and TV presenter - “His voice is an oboe with an English accent”. In the poem Fry, a gay man, kisses Susan, leading her to ponder on the dream’s meaning. In a wonderful satire on the ‘truths’ of psychology, she dismisses notions of repressed homosexuality, father figures, and safe fantasy objects, instead offering something more compassionate about human needs.
“The Roman columns and the references to King Lear’s daughters in the poem are the clue,” she says. “It’s all linked in with education, self esteem, and learnedness. I come from a blue collar background and that is exciting to me. I was embracing that and being embraced by it...and by the twinkle in Stephen Fry’s eye!”
Susan’s family history is the subject of ‘Philadelphia, August 1966’, a time when her parents attended a Beatles concert and Susan’s mother was eight months pregnant with her.
“I’m interested in where and when you were born and the geography into which you were born and how that affects you,” says Susan. “I was very affected by being born into the America of the late 1960s which was a time of hope. The poem was inspired by a photograph I found of my parents from around that time. They were so young! That helped me understand and accept some of the mistakes they made.”