Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Collectable Poet Top Trumps 2: Tony Harrison

Tony Harrison, whose Collected Poems and Complete Film Poems were released at the end of last year, is one of my favourite poets. He is as far removed from the image of poet as lace-cuffed, self-regarding ponce as it is possible to be, so much so that even the most purple-tongued poetry critics find it hard to review him in their usual unapproachable style. He is an educated man with a working class background whose poems explore that conflict rigorously and fearlessly. He is a poet who, though the phrase might seem trite, has something to say, particularly concerning the power of articulation, but does so without any worthier-than-thou airs. He doesn't strain for profundity; he finds it, in abundance, and reports it. He is frequently very funny, particularly skilled in punnery, as well as raging, bitter and rambunctious. He is flawed of course, as well; many of his poems go on far too long.

Harrison scores highly on output (his Collected is a weighty tome, and doesn't include the long film poems) and personal style (he combines Northern vernacular and Shakespearian wordplay with classical forms and never goes anywhere near free verse). His social impact can't be discounted either; despite living in an age where poetry is largely disregarded, the broadcast of his poem v. caused such a stir that there were calls for it to be banned. Conservative MP Gerald Howarth, later seen making a nitwit of himself on the Brass Eye special, led the vitriolic charge against Harrison, 'four-letter filth' and poetry itself.

Harrison scores low, however, on 'poety friends', being something of a dogged outsider, and eccentricity. He is a passionate poet, but firmly grounded in reality, moreso than many of us.

Tony Harrison links:
Collected Poems -- Review
Selected Poems
Complete Film Poems
BBC Interview

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