KEVIN HIGGINS is one of our amazing panel of judges kindly volunteering their time to support our charity writing competition. Described as ‘likely the most widely read living poet in Ireland,’ he has published five collections with Salmon Poetry, the West of Ireland’s largest literary publisher. Kevin’s work has been translated into Greek, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Serbian, Russian and Portuguese. He is Creative Writing Director for the National University of Ireland – Galway Summer School and poetry critic for The Galway Advertiser. Twitter: @KevinHIpoet1967
What writing/poetry projects are you working on at the moment?
I am working on my next collection of poetry, which will be published by Salmon Poetry next spring. It is mostly written, I think, but I need to choose which poems go in, and which don’t fit.
Who would you invite to a literary dinner party, alive or dead?
Jonathan Swift, Joan Didion, George Orwell, Muriel Rukeyser, Gore Vidal, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Eva Gore Booth, Bertolt Brecht, Brendan Behan, and Lord Byron. I would buy ten cooked chickens, fry as many potatoes as they could manage and, for drinks, there would be a choice of water, tea, or Champagne. It would be a raucous and, hopefully, scandalous affair, with not a literary lightweight in sight.
Can you describe your creative process?
I get a line, or an image, and I write it down on one of the bits of scrap paper I carry in my breast pocket. Then that line will bring forth another. And then another. Then, when I have time – usually, though not always, at the weekend – I will type what I’ve scribbled down onto the computer and go from there. The central idea behind the poem is usually fully formed before I type a word. Then, when I have a first draft, I print the poem off and ask my wife, Susan, to read it and make suggestions. Susan is also a creative writing teacher, so I am lucky in that regard. I can’t be in the room when Susan is reading a poem for the first time – too nerve wracking – which I know is a little bit pathetic. Then I generally take all her advice in terms of editing suggestions.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers/poets?
Never follow literary fashions. Once you’ve established you favourite themes and developed a literary style (or range of styles), stubbornly stick to your guns. Be yourself and then some. Otherwise you are doomed to be an eternal Zeitgest chaser, the literary equivalent of the band in the film Spinal Tap.
Which poets or writers inspire you most?
I love Bertolt Brecht’s poetry and have written a number of poems lately modelled on some of his. I also love the elegant viciousness of Alexander Pope. George Orwell was my first literary hero. But Jonathan Swift is my one true god. When anyone says to me, as they often do – especially online – “you can’t say that,” I call to mind some of the things Swift wrote and think oh yes I can. More than anyone else, Swift has given me the permission to be the poet I now am.