I vividly remember my experience reading Girl is a Shapeshifter, Higgins’ debut poetry collection; I was sat by the kitchen counter and with every few poems I’d ask to read them aloud to my partner. In her first collection I felt I had found a kindred spirit and writer. And so, it has been an honour to read Mermaid Lungs in advance of its release.
The opening few poems are both brilliant and set the tone of this collection as exploratory and very much a product of the world we have lived in recently with the advent of the pandemic, as well as the ability to now view anything which came before lockdown as blissful.
Split into six parts, the first begins the collection with a sense of love for oneself and focuses on the discovery of ourselves, particularly as we experience our twenties. The years in which we feel haggard by the world, yet hold youth still so firmly and are told we understand nothing of life. Higgins captures these juxtapositions perfectly.
The section on lockdown was incredibly moving. The spider poems (oh, sweet Deidre) filled me with such longing, loneliness and yet hope. While poems like ‘the drunk girls screaming outside my house at 4am’ and ‘if you knew how to love me’ are stunning displays of Higgins’ talent at capturing people and connection.
Throughout the collection as a whole I came to admire how Higgins marries celestial imagery with the natural world to encapsulate human emotion, both how insignificant and significant we can feel. A lovely example of this is ‘guy fawkes, 2020’ as Higgins balances across the past and present and evokes childhood nostalgia and freedom beautifully.
Higgins’ use of colloquialisms is effective in poems like ‘undying’, she makes her work relatable and almost yours in how she speaks to you from the pages. ‘The astronaut’ is also a phenomenal example of this and again demonstrates Higgins’ unique voice.
Finally, the ending is gorgeously sweet. I put down this collection with a full sense of home and belonging, especially considering how Higgins tackles how fragmented society, relationships and our reflections have been in the past few years. Mermaid Lungs will leave you feeling whole and, importantly, not alone. A brilliant successor to Girl is a Shapeshifter.