I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Scourging Buffoonery

Scourging Buffoonery

Amanda Bell
Pathogens Love A Patsy: Pandemic & Other Poems, by Rita Ann Higgins, Salmon Poetry, 96 pp, €12, ISBN: 978-1912561902 Cultural memory of the Spanish flu of 1918 is strangely absent from the literature of the period, but the same is unlikely to be said of the current pandemic, given the proliferation of creative writing projects documenting the communal experience of Covid-19 nationally and internationally. In Ireland alone, both UCD and TCD’s libraries are building collections related to the lockdown of 2020, and anthologies such as the Munster Literature Centre’s Poems from Pandemia are forthcoming before the end of the year. Salmon Poetry has been quick off the mark with the publication of Rita Ann Higgins’s Pathogens Love A Patsy: Pandemic & Other Poems, barely a year since the publication of her last collection This Killer City, and there’s no better person than Higgins to capture the zeitgeist. The book is in three sections; the first consists of thirteen pandemic poems, most of which were broadcast on Brendan O’Connor’s Saturday morning programme on RTE Radio 1. Composed weekly from the lockdown in March to the end of June, Higgins’s poems vividly reflect the unfolding drama and its effect on the collective psyche, following a trajectory from panic through fear to suspicion, and then probing the cracks in social cohesion as she homes in on how the virus amplifies inequality, yet again having a disproportionate impact on the poor, the sick and the old. The pandemic section ends on an ominous note with “Nothing is Random”, the penultimate verse of which comments: We have changed over these months. It’s easier to tell ourselves we’re the same. So much to process and thinking differently is fatiguing. We never got that memo, or the one about mortality either. You wonder why the person in the mirror with the broken capillaries is in your house, wearing your clothes. It is a fitting point at which to segue into section two: “Poems of Isolation: I’m Hanna Greally (I want to go home).” This harrowing thirty-one-stanza sequence is based on Hanna Greally’s memoir Birds’ Nest Soup (published by Alan Figgis in 1971), and is in the voice of a woman wrongfully incarcerated in St Loman’s Psychiatric Hospital in Mullingar for almost two decades in the 1940s and ’50s. The sequence is a timely reminder of the collusion of families and communities in suppressing individuals whose existence was regarded as compromising, embarrassing or…

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