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Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The End Of 'St. Judes'

Yesterday I saw the people who bought my Mom's old house have taken down the wooden 'St. Judes' sign she had tacked to the front wall. She wasn't particularly religious; I remember once she described Dana, who she'd seen at Midnight Mass in Galway Cathedral, as "over religious, that one". Mom just promised herself she'd call the house that if she survived the Hodgkin's Disease which could have killed her in 1977/78; St Jude being the patron saint of 'hopeless cases'. She lived there from February 1979 until Tuesday May 31st 2011, when she died at almost exactly noon. All things come to dust, that bit is true. I remember going out for dinner with her on her 60th Birthday at a restaurant on Quay Street. April 2002. Whatever the weather, it was indeed a day of endless summer


            St. Stephen’s Day, 1977

            for my mother


            Yesterday, in my new football boots I moved
            like Kevin Keegan through the silver afternoon.
            Today, Mull of Kintyre is number one
            and the film director Howard Hawks is dead.
            I take my football boots off,
            am myself again.

           You’re still a skeleton with all day night sweats.
           The doctor, who knows the why of everything
           but this, has given you back for Christmas.
           Most of the turkey goes leathery in the fridge.
           Dad puts the telephone down, tells me
           to extinguish the TV. The doctor
           wants you back three days early.

           Our Ford Cortina cradles you
           through late afternoon streets,
           all those lit windows and wreaths.
           But we don’t see them. And nothing is said
           as we deposit you at Unit Seven,
           Merlin Park Hospital. You at the door
           giving a small pale wave. In the near distance
           the disused boiler’s giant chimney stack.
           The rain saying terrible things
           as we drive off, that Christmas
           you didn’t die.

           KEVIN HIGGINS   
  from Frightening New Furniture (Salmon Poetry, 2010)

Anti-Abhortion Socialists, General Franco & Oliver J. Flanagan

Spare a thought for little Johnny Benson. He's not the sharpest steak knife in the set. Johnny is a member of a Facebook group of anti-abhortion 'socialists', a group whose existence is its own tiny tragedy.

Because it's Summer and I'm mostly on holiday, I yesterday posted this photograph on the Facebook group of the aforementioned 'socialists'. I titled the post "An early meeting of the Iona Institute".
This got little Johnny all hot and bothered. He commented to the effect that I obviously know nothing about History and that the Ku Klux Klan were both anti-Catholic and big on eugenics. The first bit is certainly true. Problem is, this is not a picture of the Ku Klux Klan. It is a picture of a bunch of somewhat conservative Catholic religious maniacs taken by Spanish photographer Rafael Sanza Lobato in 1970, thirty two years into the dicatorship of General Franco. Franco was something of a hero for many on the ultra Catholic right in Ireland. 

Below is an early meeting of the women's section of Fine Gael, back when the party was still sticking to its 'pro-life' election pledge. Neither Lucinda Creighton nor Fidelma Healy-Eames are thought to be present. It is believed, though, that both sent messages of support.  

The Blueshirts, who gave Fine Gael its first leader, Eoin O'Duffy, were big fans of General Franco. Some of them were blessed by Catholic Bishops before sailing to Spain to fight, albeit not very effectively, on the Fascist side in Spain's Civil War (1936-38). The were also staunchly pro-life and generally mad for all things Catholic.

A few years later, on July 9th 1943, the staunchly pro-life T.D. Oliver J. Flanagan made his maiden speech in Dáil Eireann. Among other things, Oliver J had this to say:

"How is it that we do not see any of these [Emergency Powers] Acts directed against the Jews, who crucified Our Saviour  nineteen hundred years ago, and who are crucifying us every day in the week? How is it that we do not see them directed against the Masonic Order? How is it that the I.R.A.  is considered an illegal organisation while the Masonic Order  is not considered an illegal organisation? [...] There is one thing that Germany did, and that was to route the Jews out of their country. Until we rout the Jews out of this country it does not matter a hair's breadth what orders you make. Where the bees are there is the honey, and where the Jews are there is the money."

It was not an abstract question at the time. Here is a picture of some of the Jews who had been, as Oliver J. put it, "routed out".
It was taken in 1943, the same year the pro-life Oliver J. made his speech.

Having examined the facts fully, I have come to the conclusion that little Johnny Benson, the 'pro-life socialist' has it 100% percent right: there is no connection at all between those who oppose abhortion and extreme right wing and fascist politics. None whatsover. 

Here is a poem little Johnny might like What The Virgin At Knock Would Say If She Could Speak.  

Monday, 29 July 2013

Taking Requests For Golden Oldies, Obscure Classics, Or Poems That Just Annoy The Hell Out Of You

I have published three poetry collections with Salmon Poetry to date: The Boy With No Face in 2005, Time Gentlemen, Please in 2008 & most recently Frightening New Furniture in 2010.

My next collection of poems, The Ghost In The Lobby, will be published (also by Salmon) early next year.

Over the next few weeks I will publish ONE poem from each of my three published collections on this blog, starting with a poem from my debut The Boy With No Face.

Which poem do you think it should be? I'm talking requests here. What is your most or (even) least favourite poem from The Boy With No Face. Be it a golden oldie, an obscure classic, or a poem that really annoys you but which you'd like to see published and discussed online because you secretly like being annoyed, let me know at kphiggins@hotmail.com and the collective weight of public opinion will be my command.

The Death of Baroness Thatcher published on Socialist Unity blog


A little late, here is my poem The Death of Baroness Thatcher, which was published on Andy Newman's Socialist Unity blog back in May. The poem is, in part, modelled on Alexander Pope's The Death of the Duke of Buckingham with a little help from Simon Armitage's Not The Furniture Game.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Let Us Rise! The Dublin Lockout - its impact and legacy

Here, strategically placed in one of Mick Wallace's restaurants, is a poster for the recent Dublin launch of Let Us Rise! The Dublin Lockout - its impact and legacy. The book has a foreword by Joe Higgins T.D. and is published by the Socialist Party with contributions from Oisín Kelly, Cillian Gillespie, Ray McLoughlin, Fiona O'Loughlin, Dominic Haugh & Councillor Ruth Coppinger.

I will be reviewing Let Us Rise! for the September Biblio book review page in The Galway Advertiser and attended the Galway launch at Charlie Byrne's bookshop last Friday week. The process of obtaining a review copy was, well, circuitous.

All going well, the review should appear on Thursday, September 5th.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Celebrating Fifty Years of Peter Taaffe (on the suggestion of John Bulaitis)

That's me yawning at a Militant public meeting addressed by Peter Taaffe in February, 1984. The meeting took place in the Atlanta Hotel on Dominick Street here in Galway. I now teach poetry workshops at Galway Arts Centre which is situated almost immediately across the road from where the Atlanta Hotel used to be. Despite appearances to the contrary, I was a madly enthusiastic member of Comrade Taaffe's organisation at the time and remained so for another ten years.

Before my friend Darrell Kavanagh starts typing another email to tell me to stop going on about the Socialist Party/Militant Tendency because they are now irrelevant, I should say that this is not another carping negative post. It is an occasion of celebration. John Bulaitis has been in touch to say that he thinks we should do something to celebrate the fact that Peter Taaffe (pictured below making a very important point) this year celebrates fifty years as General Secretary of Militant/the Socialist Party.
It has been pointed out to me that Peter has now been General Secretary for eight years longer than Comrade Enver Hoxha was in situ as General Secretary of the Albanian Party of Labour. Here's a video of Hoxha at a May Day celebration in Tirana back in the good old days when Albania was a deformed workers' state.

Peter has also heroically outlasted Kim Il Sung, who was leader of the Workers' Party of Korea for a (compared to Peter) paltry forty five years (1949-94).
I agree with John Bulaitis entirely on this. Whatever political (and other) differences the tens of thousands of former members of what we used to call "the organisation" may these days have with Peter, we should be big enough to put all that aside and celebrate Peter's fifty years as leader of the vanguard of the international working class.

The Socialist Party congress took place earlier in the Summer in the suitably revolutionary venue of Clacton-on-Sea. The highlight was a long speach by Peter. He has also recently been busy denouncing dogmatists in Belgium, which is always good to hear. Peter is a man far too busy to celebrate the immensity of his own achievement.

That being the case, it has been proposed that we book either Alexandra Palace or Wembley Stadium for a proper celebration, which could also double as a reunion for those who've passed through the ranks since Peter took over in the dim and distant year of 1963, back when Christine Keeler was a very busy young lady indeed and I hadn't yet been born.

Myself and John Bulaitis will co-host the evening. I have yet to inform John about this, but I have no doubt he'll agree. Below is a picture of the co-hosts of this year's Eurovision contest.
I plan to wear a dress similar to the one the woman in the picture is wearing.

We are hoping that Derek Hatton will turn up and play a few tunes on his ukelele. Clare Doyle has agreed to play some One Direction hits on her harpsichord. There will be an interpretive dance (in fifty parts) by Paul Couchman to mark each of Peter's fifty years; I am particularly looking forward to his interpretation of 1994. There'll be a special performance by Tommy Sheridan, and, we hope, a guest appearance by Christine Keeler, who will present Peter with a replica of her famous chair.
It promises to be quite a night. To get you in the mood, here is a poem.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Dear General Secretary

This post carries a health warning. If you have not at some point been a member of one of the organised parties of the far left, such as the Socialist Party or the Socialist Workers Party or, going back a bit, the Workers Party, then by reading this post you are taking an innocent first step into a strange and dangerous world.

Here is a poem I published in issue 49 of Red Banner magazine

                                           Dear General Secretary
                                                                           after Osip Mandlestam

                                           You’re the folksinger beard
                                           you spent years trying to grow;
                                           the Afghan jacket you used to wear
                                           on Bank Holiday bus trips to Galway.
                                           But the complete set of Bob Dylan LPs
                                           in the corner of your living room
                                           is not telling the truth.

                                           When you read Animal Farm, it’s to see
                                           how the pigs did it.
                                           Whatever the Revolution demands;
                                           you are what it will get.
                                           Your loudest supporters,
                                           those just out of nappies, or refugees
                                           from the Central Mental Hospital.

                                           The inconvenient turn up accused
                                           of attempted rape, pilfering funds…
                                           you leave it to others to execute the details.
                                           Anyone who questions the verdict
                                           can take their case to the committee
                                           that never meets.

                                           You sleep soundly, dream
                                           of the portrait that’ll decorate
                                           every town centre, every crossroads
                                           from Donegal to Waterford:

                                           that folksinger beard
                                           you spent years trying to grow
                                           finally come to heroic fruition.
                                                         
Below are some extracts from an article I came across today via Facebook. It details the Socialist Party leadership's response to the resignation letters of four longstanding members. Having read this article a couple of times, it is obvious now to me that my poem 'Dear General Secretary' contains not a word of truth. As my penance, I am going to spend the next several days standing in a cupboard with a brown paper bag over my head. 

On Sunday July 7 an aggregate meeting of the Socialist Party (Committee for a Workers’ International Ireland) was held in Wynn’s Hotel, Dublin to discuss the resignation of four comrades…

Notably these comrades had individually emailed letters of resignation to the party staff. Moreover those resigning had occupied positions of considerable importance: Jimmy Dignam had worked in Joe Higgins’ office in parliament; Richard O’Hara had been branch secretary in the Swords branch in north Dublin during the Clare Daly debacle which dogged the SP throughout the second half of last year and worked full-time in parliament; Andrew Phelan had been involved in forming the independent Fightback group in the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (outside party stricture); and Megan Ní Ghabhláin had similarly been involved in organising a militant opposition to Croke Park 2 in the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, which is one of the two largest teachers’ unions in Ireland. Hence their resignations could not pass without mention…

When I arrived at Wynn’s on Sunday I began summarising the most salient arguments of O’Hara’s letter - as his arguments were the most developed - as soon as I received a copy. Summarisation was compelled, as members were not allowed to keep their copies - the absurdity of having a ‘democratic discussion’ regarding the resignation letters, while not being allowed to view the letters beforehand and retain them afterward, unfortunately seemed to be lost on the rest of the room. Clearly the intention of holding the meeting was to reassure the SP’s uninformed membership of the infallibility of the leadership and pre-empt any further dissension...

With 60 members in attendance, the meeting began with a 40-minute lead-off by Kevin McLoughlin, the SP general secretary. McLoughlin’s talk did not address primarily the content of the resignation letters. Instead, as was his stated intention, he focused on the ‘Irish context’ in which the comrades resigned (as opposed to the hallowed Egyptian context). In his view the decisions to resign were only explicable against this background: the difficulty of party-building since the crisis, the collapse of the United Left Alliance (ULA),  the failure of the Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes (CAHWT) to prevent the implementation of the Property Tax and the rollback of trade union opposition to ‘Croke Park 2’ represented by the Haddington Road agreement…  

When the floor was opened for discussion, the circumlocutions of McLoughlin gave way to a slew of vulgar denunciations. In general, I will not waste the reader’s time chronicling who said what exactly; a worthless exercise, given that it all congealed into a droning three-hour morass of philistine pontification.”

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Poem In Search Of Good Home

Hannibal Lecter was a poetry fan. One of the items that can been seen in his cage in The Silence of The Lambs is a copy of the magazine Poetry (Chicago). It is one of the leading such magazines in the world and last year celebrated its hundredth anniversary.

I have published somewhere in the region of a couple of hundred poems in literary magazines since my first published poem appeared in Poetry Nottingham magazine in June, 1996. John Major was still Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Monica Lewinsky was busy not having sexual relations with that man, Mr Clinton. They were idealistic times.

Poetry magazines play a hugely important function, and will continue to do so. They are the place a new poet finds her or his first audience which, as T.S. Eliot once pointed out, is usually made up of other as yet unemerged poets.
These days, though, while I still do send poems to such magazines, I find that I am increasingly drawn to publishing poems in places that have a readership beyond what some call the literati. In the past couple of years I've regularly published poems on political websites, such as Irish Left Review, Harry's PlaceNeoneoconSocialist Unity and in newspapers, such as The Galway Advertiser, The Galway Independent and (even) The Irish Times. Last November my poem, 'The Euphemisms', was published on Clare Daly's website. In April, I had another poem published on a T.D;s website when Mick Wallace published my poem 'Alternative Proposals', in which I gave Minister for Health, James Reilly, some excellent advice.

Perhaps this is the beginning of my Ezra Pound phase and, over the next few years, I will slowly turn into a raving maniac more concerned with extremist politics than poetry. Claremorris poet and dramatist, John Corless, has recently expressed concern that this might in fact be the case. And he's probably right.

Whatever the outcome, I find that these days I aspire to be read by more than poets. I want the people who might agree with what I'm saying in the poems - this is the political and satirical poems I'm mostly talking about here - to have easy access to them. I also want those who won't like either what I'm saying, or the way I'm saying it, to also have access to the poems because I don't wish to deny either them (or myself) the dark pleasure of their eternal disapproval. Sadly, unlike Hannibal Lecter, most people do not subscribe to Poetry magazine.

Last week I put out a call on Facebook asking if there were any political or literary blogs that might be interested in publishing my poem 'What The Virgin At Knock Would Say If She Could Speak'. Roisín Peddle stepped up and published the poem on her excellent personal blog Random Descent. The poem was very quickly condemned as 'not poetry' by a foaming at the mouth member of Youth Defence, or at least a member of Youth Defence I will now forever imagine foaming at the mouth. This I considered a great success.   

In a similar vein, I am now looking for a home for my just finished and very topical poem: 'Irish Government Minister Unveils Monument To Victims Of The Pro-Life Amendment' [to the Irish constitution in 1983]. Like Bertolt Brecht's 'To Those Born Later' and Mayakovsky's 'At The Top Of My Voice' the poem looks forward to a tomorrow which can only be better than today and will, certainly, be infinitely better than all our dark abortion free Irish yesterdays.

Anyone interested in publishing the poem should email me at kphiggins@hotmail.com   
UPDATE the poem is now published here Clare Daly and here Pro-Choice Campaign Ireland
and here Referendum on the 8th Amendment NOW  and here Irish Student Left Online and also here Rabble