Rita Ann Higgins


Life
1955- ; b. Ballybrit, Co. Galway, one of 13 children; left school at 14, educ. at Brier [?Briar] Hill National School, and Sisters of Mercy Convent, Galway; Mooneenagisha Technical School; worked in the Shirt Factory and buckle factories 1972-73, later at Digital Computer Factory 1973-77; also worked as Encyclopedia sales person, shop assistant, tour guide; began reading seriously during tuberculosis treatment in hospital, at 22, when she read Orwell’s Animal Farm (‘because it was a small book’); got married married and had two children before publishing her first book;
 
joined Galway Writers’ Workshop, 1982, and subsequently issued numerous poetry collections set within the ordinary lives of women; issued Goddess on the Mervue Bus (1986) - the first book to be published by Jessie Lendennie of Salmon Poetry; received Arts Council Bursaries, 1986, 1989; appt. Writer in Residence at Galway Library, 1989; received the Peadar O’Donnell Award, 1989; member of Aosdána;
 
also issued Witch in the Bushes (1988), Philomena’s Revenge (1992), Higher Purchase (1996) and Sunny Side Plucked: New and Selected Poems (1996), based on four previous collections; elected to Aosdána, 1996; her plays incl. Face-Licker Come Home (1991) and God-of-the-Hatch-Man (1993); issued Colie Lally Doesn’t Live in a Bucket (q.d.); contrib. to ‘Poetry of Resistance’ held at Faenza Theatre Comunale Angelo Misini, July 1993; issued An Awful Racket (2001), and Ireland is Changing Mother (2011). ATT OCIL

[ top ]

Works
Collections
  • Goddess on the Mervue Bus (Galway: Salmon Publ. 1986), and Do. [2nd edn.] (Dublin: Poolbeg 1993), 55pp.;
  • Witch in the Bushes (Galway: Salmon 1988; rep. Dublin: Poolbeg 1994), 80pp.;
  • Goddess and Witch (Galway: Salmon Publ. 1990), 116pp., and Do. [2nd edn.] (Dublin: Poolbeg 1993) [combines Goddess on the Mervue Bus and Witch in the Bushes];
  • Philomena’s Revenge (Galway: Salmon Publ. 1992; rep. Dublin: Poolbeg 1993), 96pp.;
  • What’s-his-Name-is-a-Gravy-Trainer (Galway: Salmon Publ. 1994);
  • Higher Purchase (Galway: Salmon Publ. 1996), 84pp.;
  • An Awful Racket (Highgreen, Tarset: Bloodaxe; Chester Springs: Dufour Press 2001), 72pp.
Selected edns.
  • Sunny Side Plucked: New and Selected Poems (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe 1996), 160[159]pp.;
  • Throw in the Vowels: New & Selected Poems (Tarset: Bloodaxe Books; distrib. Chester Springs, PA: Dufour Editions 2005), 224pp. [24cm.]
Plays
  • Face-Licker Come Home (Galway: Salmon Publ. 1991) [1 Act];
  • God-of-the-Hatch-Man (1993) [2 Acts];
  • Colie Lally Doesn’t Live in a Bucket [1 Act] (1993);
  • Down All the Roundabouts (1999);
  • The Plastic Bag (2008);
  • The Empty Frame (2008).
Audio-disc
  • Poetry in Performance, Vol. 2 [Jukebox Edn.] (London; 57 Prods. 2003) [with Roger McGough, Jackie Kay, Brian Patten, Rita Ann Higgins, Francesca Beard, John Cooper Clarke, Salena “Saliva” Godden, Dorothea Smartt, Neil Rollinson, Ian McMillan, Michael Donaghy, Matthew Sweeney, Maura Dooley, Moniza Alvi, Choman Hardi, Imtiaz Dharker, Kamau Brathwaite, Jayne Cortez, Michael Rosen, Benjamin Zephaniah.
 
Note: some of her poems can be heard at the Bloodaxe website - online; accessed 26.02.2011.

[ top ]

Criticism
  • Interview in Rebecca E. Wilson, and Gillian Somerville-Arjat, [interviews and] eds., Sleeping with Monsters: conversations with Scottish and Irish women poets (Wolfhound 1990), pp.44-51 [with the poem ‘Middle-Aged Irish Mothers’ and Poetry Doesn’t Pay’];
  • Oonagh Warke, review of Sunny Side Plucked, in Books Ireland (May 1998), pp.127-28.
 

See also Alexander G. Gonzalez, ed., Contemporary Irish Women Poets: Some Male Perspectives (Westport/London: Greenwood 1999), 184pp., The Poets' Chair: Readings and Interviews with Ireland's Poets from the National Poetry Archive, Vol. 1, intro. by Declan Kiberd (Dublin: Poetry Ireland [2008]) [Seamus Heaney, Eavan Boland, Rita Ann Higgins].

[ top ]

Commentary
Eoin Bourke, ‘Poetic Outrage: Aspects of Social Criticism in Modern Irish Poetry’, in Donald E. Morse, et al., eds,. A Small Nation’s Contribution to the World, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1993), pp.88-106: […] Rita Ann Higgins speaks from […] inside the corporation flat, the shirt factory, the TB ward, the dole-office. She is rapidly becoming the Sansculotte of Irish poetry, the most prominent spokesperson of the economically redundant part of the working-class, the so-called long-term unemployed. Her sometimes sardonic, sometimes angry and sometimes roguish perspectives prove two things: firstly, that the so-called ‘poor’ of Ireland are certainly not always poor in spirit but can be amazingly resilient, imaginative and self-willed. Secondly, her repartee makes nonsense of the socio-linguistic theory that the speech of the ‘lower’ classes is restricted in scope. Hers, which she draws from the people around her, is highly inventive, ludic and pungent, even when describing the [104] monotony and regimentation of factory drudgery and its throttling of the desire for self-expression and adventure.’ (Bourke, pp.104-05.)

[ top ]

Fred Johnson, reviewing Higher Purchase (1996), reiterates his worries that this is not poetry, and refers to recent Irish Times interview with Katie Donovan in which Higgins relates that she turned to poetry because she ‘thought it would be easier’ when she was criticised for faulty verbs. (Books Ireland, Feb. 1996, pp.18-19.)

Sara Berkeley, review of poetry collections by Noelle Vial and Rita Ann Higgins (Sunny Side Plucked, 1996), in Irish Times, 25 Jan. 1997, calling her ‘the town-crier of modern hardship: the urban scourges of drink, unemployment, the breadline, and life on the hire purchase system … also lit up by the funny, affectionate moments in life, and her odd, secret way of seeing’; further, ‘some poems are too raw, and don’t live up to the single good idea of the title.’

[ top ]

[Q.auth.], review of An Awful Racket in Irish Times (23 June 2001): ‘the language of Higgin’s poems exists at a tiny, crucial remove from actual speech [ …] stylised colloquialisms create urgent, sometimes haunting rhythms in monologues by edgy, eathy, unimpressed characters who understand suffering and are yet quick to see the funny side of things’; ‘gained in flexibility over the years’.

[ top ]