Rita Ann Higgins is this okay Irish poet who I love. I’m sure she drives people who really read poetry crazy, but since my requirements for a good poem is that it must both put something in a way I never could and to make me think that there’s no other way to put it that would still get at the truth of it, my standards for good poetry are not so strict. My absolute favorite poet is Uncle Walt (yes, even the famous dead get pseudonyms here at Tiny Cat Pants) and I could live my whole life with “Song of Myself” as the only poem I had to read and not feel like I was missing that much.
Higgins has two poems that I keep coming back to. One I don’t realize I have memorized until I’m sitting at a meeting and some young rich priviledged “do-gooder” is talking about how he took a year off of school to find himself and just bounced around from family home to family home all over the world and I’m thinking about how, just once, I wish someone had said to the recalcitrant brother or the Butcher, “Here’s more money than you can spend. Here’s a passport. Here’s the world. Be back in a year.” I wonder what that could have meant for them at 22.
It’s like when someone came to me and said, “your brothers do drugs. What rehab facilities do you recommend?” and I was like, “Rehab facilities. We don’t go to rehab facilities. We go to jail.” What the fuck? Rehab. Please. Obviously, I just work here.
And so it’s times like this that I find myself thinking of her poem, “Some People” in which she just list the things that some people know about: like hiding from the bill collectors and worrying about where dinner is coming from and sitting in welfare lines and on and on until the whole poem makes you want to key a Jaguar and then it ends, “And some people don’t.”
I say that to myself a lot, “And some people don’t.” It doesn’t mean that they aren’t good people; they just don’t know what it’s like to wake up one morning to the sound of the police knocking on your front door with a warrant and excited dogs. Their problems never involve the justice system in the same ways ours do.
Anyway, she also has this other poem, “The Have-You-Come-Yets of the Western World” which reminds me of my hope for Loretta Lynn. I hope Loretta Lynn is fucking Jack White right now.
I don’t know that they are. Living in Nashville, we never hear any of the good gossip. It’s all about how so and so is gay and, believe me, according to the rumors, everyone in country music is gay. It’s like a big Roman orgy out to Tim and Faith’s house or Kenny’s house or Dolly’s or Keith Urban’s or whatever. The only person who’s not secretly gay, apparently, is Toby Keith and I’m convinced he pines for all of the Dixie Chicks.
But Loretta Lynn. I like to imagine her out there to Hurricane Mills getting up right about now and slipping on her house coat and her slippers and working a little crick out of her hip and looking back over her shoulder at Jack White sprawled across Mooney’s side of the bed and I hope she thinks “He’s not Conway, but he’ll do.” and I hope she smiles and goes down to make some coffee and sit on the porch and watch the tourists wandering over the bridge and back waiting for the morning tours to start.
And I hope that after a while, Jack wakes up and stares at the ceiling and thinks about the ghost stories about the house and wonders how to ask Ms. Lynn about what happened last night.
As Higgins puts it:
In time one will crawl
out from under thigh-land.
Although drowning he will say,
Woman I am terrified, why is this house
And you’ll know he’s the one.
Anyway, if you all are looking for something to get you in the mood for St. Patrick’s day, I highly recommend The Wake Forest Book of Irish Women’s Poetry, 1967-2000. It’s one of my favorite books of poetry and both Higgins poems are in there, as well as some of Moya Cannon’s stuff, who is a fantastic poet.
Wake is an awesome press. They only publish Irish poetry and they provide a real service to the literary community by allowing an American outlet for these voices. If you have $20, and you want to buy the book, order it directly from them if you can.
However, feel no shame about buying this from Amazon.com. Amazon.com rules. Well, maybe not for the workers who hate their lives, but for tiny presses who can’t afford the big displays in the chain bookstores, and for the people in small towns who couldn’t get to those big chains, even if they wanted to, Amazon.com brings them an aesthetic life. There’s no shame in supporting that.