Hopperville / Poem In The Manner of The Late Kevin Higgins



for Edward Hopper, American artist, 1882-1967
Sad, restless creature, this city –
never knows when to stop talking.
Turns the night brittle with cheap
bangles of light, the stink of gasoline,
pink cologne. Cha-cha music
braided with crap radio hiss.

Between hot pavement and hard, starless sky,
windows – rows of bright rectangles.
Framed in these,
the city’s hostages.
Sleek winged things sleeved in blunted flesh.
Each has sore feet, bowed head,
hands that reach for newspapers, keyboards,
other hands.

We see them when we look up,
glimpse them in ritual,
blessing themselves by brushing their teeth,
boiling the kettle. Haloed
by laptop light, oracled
by weathermen, prayed for
by talk show hosts, tested
by alarm clocks and empty beds.
Broken. Holy.
Each of God’s reflections
turning out the light.

– Susan Millar DuMars

Poem In The Manner of The Late Kevin Higgins

              “What is most striking is his immense self-regard.”
               Member of the Socialist Party whose name no one remembers
I am not the walrus, but the sausage
you couldn’t be bothered to eat in St. Louis.
I’m the massage lounge at Cleveland Airport
you didn’t have the courage to visit.
If I was an article in The New Yorker
I’d mention Leon Trotsky at least
seventeen times and you’d read me
(but not to the end) at a motorway stopover
near Stevenage. I’m General Pinochet
with what appears to be a smiling face.
I’m the man who lives in a broom closet
with no doors and a broom only he can see.
I’m the ashtray it’s now illegal to use.
I’m the game-show host
with the terrible green sweater
who years from now will be bundled
into the back of a police car
with an Aldi bag over his whitened mullet.
I’m the doctor who called
your recurring bladder infection
the pneumonia of the South.
I’m everyone taken away
in the middle of the night
(or at least before the ice cream arrived)
for writing subversive haiku.
And I’m those who did the taking.

– Kevin Higgins


Standing on the Couch: the Over the Edge Readings Series Turns Ten

by Susan Millar DuMars

In 2003 my partner Kevin and I were living in a grotty upstairs flat in Salthill. Wood panelling prevailed. A coin-op electricity metre ticked off our minutes of space-heating, television, light. We could watch the undulations of Galway Bay from our front window – if we stood on the couch and squinted.

That was the year we started the Over the Edge readings. The decade since has been busy for us; we got married, published four books each, and moved to our current (wood panel-less) house. We also struggled, first to make a living and more recently to cope with Kevin’s mother’s death. Now we pause to take a breath; assemble an anthology (forthcoming from Salmon) of Over the Edge alumni; and think over what it’s all meant.

For OTE, the years saw slow, steady growth. We’ve kept the project focussed by remembering its purpose; to provide a showcase for writers who’ve not yet published a book. Fifteen minutes for each of three readers (poetry or prose), followed by an open mic where absolutely anyone can get in on the act. The only change we’ve seen has been the increased ability of OTE to attract well-known authors. A tweak to the format resulted – we started putting one established writer on the bill with two unpublished. The juxtaposition upped everyone’s game, and boosted the already high attendance as well.

OTE commonly gets audiences of 50-75 people. There’s no trick to this. One of our readers is always local, and is encouraged to bring every workmate and Great Uncle they’ve got. One reader is a name the literati will recognise. Lots of people come to do the open mic. And we publicise like mad – posters, emails, texts. Our shameless advertising and big crowds have raised eyebrows in some quarters. There are still people who think that a literary experience is only any good if it’s dull and poorly attended. Our audiences were recently taken to task in a national newspaper for being gauche enough to clap after every poem. Such unbridled enthusiasm makes some people nervous. These people should feel free to stay at home. OTE is not for them. We’re for people who are new to writing and for those who are new to listening to writing as well. Kevin and I teach writing classes, for community colleges but also for schools, hospitals, rehab centres, retirement groups and people with disabilities. Students from these classes take part in OTE too, both as audience and talent. OTE has greatly encouraged the democratisation of literature by demonstrating the rich stew that results when everyone feels welcome to take part.

Over three hundred writers have read at OTE. About two hundred were unpublished at the time. Over forty of these have published books since, so roughly one in five of our up-and-comers came and conquered. The vast majority of these are poets – proof that it’s easier to publish a poetry collection than a book of short stories or a novel. In the past few years small presses, websites and magazines have begun to redress that imbalance by publishing more fiction. However, for most of the past ten years, OTE has been the only reading series in Ireland to include fiction writers alongside poets. Finally our lead is being followed, and fiction writers are stepping up to the mic in ever increasing numbers.

Half of our emerging writers who went on to be published had studied writing. OTE can be seen as both a cause and an effect of the recent boom in creative writing classes. As teachers, Kevin and I make an effort to bring writing students to OTE – ours and others, including those doing the MA in Writing at the local university. I have a Masters myself, and am never surprised to see past students succeed. Writers who seek out instruction; exposure to different methods; the energy and feedback of a classroom community, are writers who aren’t precious about their product. They seek challenge, not praise. These writers are naturally going to rise to the top of our competitive profession.

OTE has demystified the process of publication. When I started writing, no one knew anything. Local fields were full of writers waiting to be struck by lightning. Through the readings we’ve cleared a sort of path; take classes, do open mics, submit to journals, assemble a manuscript. There’s more sense of a progression. This does not help everyone. Occasionally, ambitious writers mistake the path for a career ladder. They’re crushed not to be Vice President of Haiku in the allotted five years. This is a mistake of ambition. Good writers are ambitious for their work, not for themselves.

Recently, a new poetry magazine called Skylight 47 has emerged in Galway; OTE provides financial and creative support to the publication, which has an independent editorship. Among the elements setting Skylight 47 apart from other journals – it carries reviews, editorials, in-depth interviews with poets. It’s a magazine that talks back, that insists on a dialogue with modern poetry. This idea of literary appreciation as an interactive process is part of the ethos of OTE and, I hope, its most lasting legacy. At its best, Over the Edge expands people’s vision of both literature and themselves. It encourages them to do a little work and gain the world of words.

More or less what we had in mind ten years ago, when we stood on our couch to see the sea.


Susan Millar DuMars / Kevin Higgins

Susan Millar DuMars is originally from Philadelphia. She has published three collections of poetry, the most recent of which, The God Thing, is just published by Salmon Poetry.  Her first full collection of short stories, Lights in the Distance, was published by Doire Press in 2010. Kevin Higgins has published three collections of poetry and one collection of essays, Mentioning The War. His work features in the generation defining anthology Identity Parade: New British & Irish Poets (Bloodaxe, 2010). Together, Susan & Kevin co-organise Over The Edge.

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