Ireland's unofficial poet laureate Paul Durcan and publishers Liberty Press have criticized an attack on President Michael D. Higgins’ poetry.
Professor Kevin Kiely, in one of the most scathing reviews ever published in Ireland, described the president’s new book of poetry as “lame, stale and stilted.” Kiely said the book was so bad that Higgins could be accused of “crimes against literature.”
Higgins’s book, published by Liberties Press and called New and Selected Poems, was reviewed by Kiely in Books Ireland, a magazine funded by the Arts Council and distributed to bookshops and colleges.
Kiely, who is a poet as well as a leading critic, did a master’s in creative writing in Trinity College Dublin, a PhD in University College Dublin, and was a Fulbright Scholar in the U.S. Recently he was professor of Irish literature at Boise State University in Idaho.
New and Selected Poems is billed as a “treasury of the very best” of Higgins’ writing over the years. It was completed before he was elected president last October.
Kiely expanded on his review in an interview on RTE radio. “We don’t want to get a reputation as a country of bad bankers and bad poets,” he said.
“I don’t think we can get this country back on its feet by exporting volumes of Michael D Higgins’ poetry.”
Kiely said the president was entitled to write what he wanted to, but as a critic he would not write a review calling it poetry just because of Higgins’s role.
The critic said he examined the book page by page and found there was “no body” and “nothing to report on.”
“It’s a sort of musing and ramblings that someone would write in a diary and not publish,” he added.
But last Sunday Durcan leapt to the defense of President Higgins.
“He has an absolute commitment to the spirit of poetry, which is inseparable from his worldly outlook, and his political outlook, with its origins in a vision of radical socialism and the dignity of the human spirit,” he said.
“Many of us, as poets, have been trying for 45 years to achieve this quality, but he has had it from the start.”
Durcan said that Kiely had no competence to talk or write about poetry at any level.
“All of us in the poetic community know that. Since the 1980s he has been writing rubbish about poetry,” Durcan added.
Higgins’ publishers, Liberties Press, said, “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.”