Tony Harrison: v- conflicting voices and the political imperative - Contemporary Literature in English Dr. Natália Pikli ELTE
Tony Harrison (b. 1937)page, stage and screen: ”it’s all one poetry” Motto of V: 'My father still reads the dictionary every day. He says your life depends on your power to master words.‘ Arthur Scargill Sunday Times, 10 January1982 • Examining and dramatising the relationships between • language/power/politics: BARD Rutter, Carol (1995). Permanently Bard. Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books.
Major works • The Loiners (1970) • From the School of Eloquence and Other Poems (1981) • Continuous (50 Sonnets from the School of Eloquence and Other Poems) (1981) • A Kumquat for John Keats (1981) • V (1985) • Dramatic Verse,1973-85 (1985) • Square Rounds (1992) • The Gaze of the Gorgon (1992) • Black Daisies for the Bride (1993) • The Shadow of Hiroshima and Other Film/Poems (1995) • Laureate's Block and Other Occasional Poems (2000) • Under the Clock (2005) • Selected Poems (2006) • Collected Poems (2007) • Collected Film Poetry (2007) • Drama translations/adaptations: Aeschylus’s The Oresteia, The Mysteries, Moliere’s Misanthrope, Euripides’s Hecuba, Phaedra Britannica (from Racine’s)
Author Statementhttp://literature.britishcouncil.org/tony-harrison Tony Harrison: ”my upbringing among so-called 'inarticulate' people has given me a passion for language that communicates directly and immediately. I prefer the idea of men speaking to men to a man speaking to God, or even worse to Oxford's anointed. And books are only a part of what I see as poetry. It seems to me no accident that some of the best poetry in the world is in some of its drama from the Greek onwards. In it I find a reaffirmation of the power of the word, eroded by other media and by some of the speechless events of our worst century.”
a man of contradictions - Leeds, run-down industrial city, son of a baker v scholarship (Leeds Grammar School, Leeds University) – the classics/Oxbridge education - inherited/childhood lge (non-Standard) v RP - scholar, ‘poeta doctus’ v reaching mass audiences (National Theatre, TV film/poems)
Interview (Guardian, 31 March 2007) • "There are risks of sentimentality," he says. "But my metre starts ticking in the presence of dumbness and inarticulacy. Coming from a very inarticulate family made me try to speak for those who can't express themselves, and created a need for articulation at its most ceremonial - poetry." • GIVING VOICE TO the underpriviliged, Hiroshima victims, Alzheimer victims, • reflecting on Salman Rushdie’s fatwa, the Iraq war, the Bosnian conflict, etc. • against an "English reluctance to marry politics and poetry. Why shouldn't poetry address what happened yesterday, and be published in the newspaper?" • http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2007/mar/31/poetry.tonyharrison
Heredity How you became a poet's a mystery! Wherever did you get your talent from? I say: I had two uncles, Joe and Harry- one was a stammerer, the other dumb.
Them & [uz]for Professors Richard Hoggart & Leon Cortez(excerpts) […] 4 words only of mi ‘art aches and… ‘Mine’s broken, You barbarian, T.W.!’ He was nicely spoken. ‘Can’t have our glorious heritage done to death!’ […] ‘Poetry is the speech of kings. You’re one of those Shakespeare gives the comic bits to : prose! All poetry (even Cockney Keats?) you see ‘s been dubbed by [Λs] into RP, Recieved Pronunciation, please believe [Λs] Your speech is in the hands of the Receivers.’ ‘We say [Λs] not [uz], T.W!’ That shut my trap. […] So right, yer buggers, then! We’ll occupy Your lousy leasehold Poetry. […] RIP RP, RIP T. W. I’m Tony Harrison no longer you! […] My first mention in the Times Automatically made Tony Anthony!
V (1985) • written during the miners’ strike 1984-85 • Thatcher and transnational corporations v miners/trade unions • 1970, Enoch Powell’s speech: ‘the enemy within’, 1980s: Thatcherite ‘we’ v the culturally different who are ‘dangerous to liberty’ • collapse of such cities as Leeds (coal, manufacture, cotton, etc.) • Arthur Scargill: National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) • political statement or poetry?
v • ‘drama’: poet/persona visiting his parents’ grave in historical Leeds cemetery (Beeston Hill, overloking the town/the university) – tombstones vandalised by skinheads/football fans • personal reflection on what he finds → dialogue (skin v poet, Doppelgänger? his other alternative self if no educational success?) → home → summary? : his own epitaph • Modelled on and mocking the poetic tradition (cf. T.S. Eliot!) – adapting the genre of ‘funeral/pastoral elegy’ • Thomas Gray: Elegy Writtenin a Country Churchyard (1742-1750).
Thomas Gray: description, a peaceful dirge, melancholy, monologue, and an epitaph for the poet ”Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree's shade, Where heaves the turf in many a mould'ring heap, Each in his narrow cell for ever laid, The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.” ”Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest, Some Cromwell guiltless of his country's blood.” The Epitaph Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth A youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown. Fair Science frown'd not on his humble birth, And Melancholy mark'd him for her own. Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere, Heav'n did a recompense as largely send: He gave to Mis'ry all he had, a tear, He gain'd from Heav'n ('twas all he wish'd) a friend. No farther seek his merits to disclose, Or draw his frailties from their dread abode, (There they alike in trembling hope repose) The bosom of his Father and his God.
VMocking poetic tradition/role and questioning the significance and role of a poet:Byron/Wordsworth/Harrison/skin ”With Byron three graves on I’ll not go short Of company, and Wordsworth’s opposite. […] Wordsworth built church organs, Byron tanned Luggage cowhide in the age of steam” ”And there's HARRISON on some Leeds building sites I've taken in fun as blazoning my name, which I've also seen on books, in Broadway lights, so why can't skins with spraycans do the same?”
Going against the grain: trochees instead of iambs, alliteration (Middle Ages/Northerner), colloquial speech Next millennium you'll have to search quite hard to find my slab behind the family dead, butcher, publican, andbaker, now me, bard adding poetry to their beef, beer and bread.
expletives/four-letter words –language = layers of society (mayor, nameless ones, skins) cf. rhymes! The language of this graveyard ranges from a bit of Latin for a former Mayor or those who laid their lives down at the Somme, the hymnal fragments and the gilded prayer, how people 'fell asleep in the Good Lord', brief chisellable bits from the good book and rhymes whatever length they could afford, to CUNT, PISS, SHIT and (mostly) FUCK!
v as versus – class/education/politics & general concerns Vs sprayed on the run at such a lick, the sprayer master of his flourished tool, get short-armed on the left like that red tick they never marked his work with much at school. […] These Vs are all the versuses of life From LEEDS v. DERBY, Black/White and (as I've known to my cost) man v. wife, Communist v. Fascist, Left v. Right, Class v. class as bitter as before, the unending violence of US and THEM, personified in 1984 by Coal Board MacGregor and the NUM, Hindu/Sikh, soul/body, heart v. mind, East/West, male/female, and the ground these fixtures are fought on's Man, resigned to hope from his future what his past never found.
Dialogue 1. What is it that these crude words are revealing? What is it that this aggro act implies? Giving the dead their xenophobic feeling or just a cri-de-coeur because man dies? So what's a cri-de-coeur, cunt? Can't you speak the language that yer mam spoke. Think of 'er! Can yer only get yer tongue round fucking Greek? Go and fuck yourself with cri-de-coeur! 'She didn't talk like you do for a start!' I shouted, turning where I thought the voice had been. She didn't understand yer fucking 'art'! She thought yer fucking poetry obscene!
Dialogue 2. – role/dialect reversalcan you represent the ones you come from/ separated from by education and language? 'Listen, cunt!' I said, 'before you start your jeering the reason why I want this in a book 's to give ungrateful cunts like you a hearing!' A book, yer stupid cunt, 's not worth a fuck! 'The only reason why I write this poem at all on yobs like you who do the dirt on death 's to give some higher meaning to your scrawl.' Don't fucking bother, cunt! Don't waste your breath! 'You piss-artist skinhead cunt, you wouldn't know and it doesn't fucking matter if you do, the skin and poet united fucking Rimbaud but the autre that je est is fucking you.‘ Ah've told yer, no more Greek...That's yer last warning! Ah'll boot yer fucking balls to Kingdom Come. They'll find yer cold on t'grave tomorrer morning. So don't speak Greek. Don't treat me like I'm dumb. (the poet’s ‘act of aggro’ – silencing a horrible opera singer with water from a fire hose)
Identification? 'OK!' (thinking I had him trapped) 'OK!' 'If you're so proud of it, then sign your name when next you're full of HARP and armed with spray, next time you take this short cut from the game.' He took the can, contemptuous, unhurried and cleared the nozzle and prepared to sign the UNITED sprayed where mam and dad were buried. He aerosolled his name. And it was mine.
racism/problems of multiculturalism/PC or problem? today’s skin v poet’s father But why inscribe these graves with CUNT and SHIT? Why choose neglected tombstones to disfigure? This pitman's of last century daubed PAKI GIT, this grocer Broadbent's aerosolled with NIGGER? […] House after house FOR SALE where we'd played cricket with white roses cut from flour-sacks on our caps, with stumps chalked on the coal-grate for our wicket, and every one bought now by 'coloured chaps', dad's most liberal label as he felt squeezed by the unfamiliar, and fear of foreign food and faces, when he smelt curry in the shop where he'd bought beer.
‘UNITED’ – sprayed on his parents’ tombstone/football club/metaphor Half versus half, the enemies within the heart that can't be whole till they unite. As I stoop to grab the crushed HARP lager tin the day's already dusk, half dark, half light. That UNITED that I'd wished onto the nation or as reunion for dead parents soon recedes. The word's once more a mindless desecration by some HARPoholic yob supporting Leeds.
Motif of here Comes the Bride (3x)‘love – ‘united’? Home, home to my woman, where the fire's lit these still chilly mid-May evenings, home to you, […] The ones we choose to love become our anchor […] My alter ego wouldn't want to know it, His aerosol vocab would baulk at LOVE, the skin's UNITED underwrites the poet, the measures carved below the ones above.
The Epitaph: self-definition, self-articulation, memory Beneath your feet's a poet, then a pit. Poetry supporter, if you're here to find How poems can grow from (beat you to it!) SHIT find the beef, the beer, the bread, then look behind. • death/the great leveller/material and spiritual united • remembrance
v • versus • verses • victory sign • ‘four-letter sign’ • red tick at school • Heteroglossia (Bakhtin) – plurality of voices • semantic ambivalence – puns and role/uncertainty of lge • personal memory: fiction or reality? – a recreation of the event (lge – never passive) or political/authorial statement • author/narrator/character (cf. Fowles)
Teddy Taylor Tory MP appealed to Channel 4 chiefs tosee sense: ”a poem full of obscenities is clearly so objectionable that it will lead to the government beingforced to take action it would prefer not to have totake.” Charges of obscenity, bullying, misrepresentation, prejudice Gerald Howarth said that Harrison was "Probablyanother Bolshie poet wishing to impose hisfrustrations on the rest of us". Harrison retorted that Howarth was "Probably anotheridiot MP wishing to impose his intellectual limitationson the rest of us". Blake Morrison poet and critic in The Independent said: „Those MPs are right to believe that the poem is shocking, but not because of its language. It shocks because it describes unflinchingly what is meant by a divided society, because it takes the abstractions we have learned to live with – unemployment, racial tension, inequality, deprivation – and gives them a kind of physical existence on the page.” Harold Pinter: ”The criticism against the poem has been offensive, juvenile and, of course, philistine. It should certainly be broadcast.” The film, dir. R. Eyre, BBC Channel 4, 1987 – great publicity
Tony Harrison in Hungary • Lettre (Vol.52. 2004. Spring) • Szabó T. Anna: Hálaadás • Mesterházi Mónika: A fogfájás (short story) • Ferencz Győző: v (excerpts) • http://www.epa.hu/00000/00012/00036/vers_harrison.htm