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Saturday 23 August 2014

Critic says President’s poems are a ‘crime against literature’

John Spain Books Editor

Published 10/02/2012 | 05:00

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President Michael D Higgins speaking yesterday at the launch of the European Year of Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations at Dublin Castle
The president's new poetry collection was panned by leading critic Professor Kevin Kiely in 'Books Ireland'

BEING President is no protection from the critics. In one of the most scathing reviews ever published here, the new book of poetry by Michael D Higgins has been torn apart by a leading critic.

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Professor Kevin Kiely says that the President's latest book is "lame, stale and stilted", that it is "bland, imprecise and ultimately incomprehensible" and that it's so bad that Michael D Higgins "can be accused of crimes against literature".

Prof Kiely, a respected academic, even accuses Mr Higgins of stealing Scarlett O'Hara's closing line in the movie 'Gone with the Wind' -- "And tomorrow is another day" -- in the poem 'The Ebbing Tide'.

Political

The book, published recently by Liberties Press, is titled 'New and Selected Poems'.

The review which tears it apart appears in the latest edition of 'Books Ireland', a magazine funded by the Arts Council and distributed to bookshops and colleges all over Ireland.

Prof Kiely is a leading poetry critic. He did a Masters in Creative Writing in TCD, a PhD in UCD, and he was a Fulbright Scholar in the US. Recently he was Professor of Irish Literature at Boise State University, Idaho. He is currently back in Ireland.

The book contains interlinking prose pieces by Michael D between the poems, beginning with his birth in 1941.

In his review, Prof Kiely first comments on the book's foreword by Mark Patrick Hederman, which claims that "Higgins exercises the ambiguous dexterity of being both poet and politician".

Prof Kiely points out that two pieces in the book are dedicated to Mr Hederman and to the late author John O'Donoghue. Prof Kiely says that "all three make up a school of the bland, the imprecise and the ultimately incomprehensible, along with John Moriarty".

"This is a shocking book because of the profusion of lame, stale and stilted lines," Prof Kiely says.

In the poem 'The Betrayal', Mr Higgins's father is portrayed as hard-pressed to buy glasses after the optical benefit "was rejected by de Valera for poorer classes".

Meanwhile, Dev got his spectacles in Zurich. Prof Kiely refers to this as "token political comment and trite observation".

In 'Of Sons and Mothers', Mr Higgins declares: "I am becoming my mother" and proceeds to enumerate womanly traits.

Prof Kiely says that 'Stargazer' has the absurd line: "There is nobody to ask now for the stars."

'The Man who Never Had a Visitor' is obviously about loneliness, Prof Kiely says, but adds that it is "merely anecdotal, melodramatic and inherently from the Ireland's Own School of Verse".

Prof Kiely is particularly dismissive of the attempts at philosophising in some of the poems, saying Mr Higgins's "quasi-philosophical verse, not even humble fireside or armchair philosophy, is similarly cringe-worthy".

'And the Trees Wept', as far as one can make out, is about Jesus, Prof Kiely says.

He says that Mr Higgins attempts comedy with 'Jesus appears in Dublin in 1990 at the Port & Docks Board site' but he dismisses it as a "lame duck".

Concluding his review, Prof Kiely says: "Higgins must be addressing his notebook and pencil solely, otherwise he can be accused of crimes against literature."

'Books Ireland' is regarded as an important guide to all new books published in Ireland and carries reviews by leading academics and critics.

The appearance of such a critical review of the book by Mr Higgins is bound to be controversial.

Coincidentally, Mr Higgins will tonight be conferred with honorary membership of Irish PEN, when he presents the PEN Award for 2012 to bestselling writer Joseph O'Connor at a gala dinner in the Royal St George Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire.

PEN is an international association of writers, which defends freedom of expression around the world.

They won't be stuck for a topic of conversation at the dinner.

Irish Independent

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