London-born writer and poet Kevin Higgins is a firm believer that there is a direct link between politics and writing
The poet, critic, columnist, creative writing teacher, and general literary advocate was politically active in his youth and, while he may have shied away from party politics in recent years, he maintains that the nurturing of creativity is “a very political thing”, and that people with a creative outlet are much less likely to be told what to do.
It is perhaps not surprising, then, that when Kevin published his fourth book ‘Mentioning The War’ earlier this year, it was not poetry, but rather a collection of his reviews and essays from over the previous decade, containing many political musings, as well as poetry reviews.
“I started writing essays and longer pieces in 2001 in a serious way and I thought it would be interesting to gather them together; every review I’ve written isn’t in there because it would fill three books; but to give a flavour of the different interests and so on,” he explains.
Since his teenage years in the 1980s, when he “thought there was going to be a revolution”, Kevin has moved more towards the middle ground. And, while he acknowledges that both the rebellious youth and his moderate older self are cliché, there are, he maintains, truths within both positions.
To Kevin, changes in beliefs and the debate of such issues are important, and for this reason, ‘Mentioning The War’ is not afraid to contradict itself and he has consciously left in pieces written across ten years that reflect divergent viewpoints.
Just as a debate can provide a new perspective on a given issue, so too can art, and poetry has often been a prism through which the Newcastle-based poet has viewed even the most irksome subject.
“If you’re writing a poem about something that really annoys you, in the act of making the poem work as a poem, your feeling about the issue has changed in some way,” he says.
“It’s very interesting to read, to me, poems or stories where you completely disagree with what the person is trying to say, or you think you do, but it’s really well said. It’s a challenging area, because it makes you think. It doesn’t mean it’ll change your mind.”
There is, he says, no wrong poem or no right poem, but there are bad poems and good poems. In writing his reviews, he tries to refrain from being too glowing or too harsh, trying to find glimmers of hope in the writing he dislikes, and things that need improving in those he enjoys.
“It’s very hard to believe reviews that are 100 per cent glowing or 100 per cent hostile and negative,” he says, adding that he will always strive not to be too harsh on new writers.
Between writing poetry, essays and reviews, teaching creative writing and co-running the Over The Edge literary events with his wife, Susan Millar DuMars, Kevin admits that his workload can be tiring, particularly when his persistence and dedication to poetry and literature is the source of some begrudgery from less active quarters.
However, he is reinvigorated by the prospect of encountering new writers and writings at his creative writing classes in Galway Technical Institute and at Over The Edge events.
“I like nothing better than seeing who will they be, where will they go? Seeing them come along to the readings, maybe thinking about the open mic the second or third time they come along; that really makes it absolutely worth it.”
Name: Kevin Higgins
Newsworthiness: The literary group co-founded by Kevin, Over the Edge, has just launched its 2012 New Writer of the Year Competition.