In February's edition of Books Ireland, critic Kevin Kiely reviewed Michael D. Higgins' New and Selected Poems. The review was scathing to say the least, calling President Higgins' poems 'bland...imprecise...ultimately incomprehensible' with a 'profusion of lame, stale and stilted lines'.
Irish Independent Books Editor John Spain featured the review in today's paper, highlighting some of its more murderous criticisms. Opening with the paragraph,
"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." A straightforward news piece, Spain brought the review to the public's attention, mentioning at the end that this evening President Higgins will 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 Dun Laoghaire.
To read the piece from the Irish Independent, click here.
The story was picked up by RTÉ Radio this morning by both Ryan Tubridy on 2FM and Pat Kenny on RTÉ Radio 1. Ryan spoke to Kevin Kiely who defended his review, saying that what Michael D. writes is not poetry, despite the fact that he was unable to give a definition of what poetry is. Pat Kenny also spoke to Kevin Kiely as well as to Des Kenny of Kenny Books in Galway. Des was outraged by Kiely's comments, refuting claims that Higgins cannot be compared to other Irish poets, such as Yeats, by explaining that that is not the President's intention. New and Selected Poems, and indeed Michael D.'s three previous collections, spawn from personal expression and not an attempt to mimic other Irish poets.
Des Kenny had this to say:
"Given the context of the review I suggest that Professor Kiely is not so much out of sympathy with the poetry he is reviewing as he is with what he sees as what Mark Patrick Hederman, John O’Donohue and Michael D represent, a point that is left somewhat vague in the course of his text. The rest of the critique, if it can be called that seems to me to be one long diatribe without rhyme or reason and I feel has a more personal agenda than a critical one. Poetry is of its nature a personal thing and in Michael D’s poetry we find a human reaction to the blatant disregard to human rights that exists throughout the world and that indeed Michael D himself had been subject to throughout his own life both on a personal and a professional level. To make trite of these deeply personal experiences as Professor Kiely does is not the job of a critic as I see it."
The piece was also picked up by Broadsheet.ie, which you can read here.
Liberties Press Publisher Seán O'Keeffe was also quoted by Ryan Tubridy, saying,
"Michael D Higgins is one of our leading public intellectuals and a fine poet, drawing on his personal experiences to create moving and at times light-hearted poetry. The fact that thousands of people have bought and enjoyed his New and Selected Poems speaks for itself. We at Liberties Press are proud to have published this collection and delighted to have got people talking about poetry."
I'll leave you to watch and listen as Michael D. reads 'Bank manager faints at the mayor's ball'. Kiely used this poem to support his comment that Michael D. is 'a lame duck in comedy'. What do you say?
As Seán mentioned thousands of people have bought, read and enjoyed New and Selected Poems. If you are one of those thousands, we'd love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to comment...