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Old 05-03-2017, 05:20 AM
Nigel Mace Nigel Mace is offline
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Default Tony Harrison at 80

On Sunday 30th April, we were lucky enough to attend Tony Harrison's 80th Brithday reading at Salt's Mill in Saltaire.

The venue was what, in the Borders, we'd call "stowed out" with around 300 people from life-long friends to huge numbers of young fans - a real clamjamfrey of locals from all around urban West Yorkshire. He read with caustic wit and understated sensitivty and with an articulation that ranged from the penetratingly crisp, through a variety of tones, to the broadest of his original Leeds accent. From the pungency of "Them & (uz)" to the searing intelligence of the passage on the Marsyas myth from his play "The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus" (with which the evening ended) and all points in between, it was a tour de force, greeted with huge enthusiasm by an audience which queued for hours afterwards to purchase stacks of his books, all of which he patiently signed.

I felt very lucky indeed to have been present and well cured of the reserve I've, in some past times, harboured about his work - which read and reread since, bulks the larger and the prouder for the experience.
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Old 05-03-2017, 02:31 PM
Gregory Dowling Gregory Dowling is offline
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Thanks, Nigel, for this. I wish I'd been there. Harrison at his best is one of the very best. I think of his political poetry as being in the great tradition of Shelley's "Mask of Anarchy".

Here's his Initial Illumination from the Gulf War.
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Old 05-04-2017, 02:10 AM
Nigel Mace Nigel Mace is offline
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It was such an impressive occasion, Gregory, and it was lit up by his personal sense of immersion in the Greek world and, as I've reread so much of his stuff this week, the fluency with which he connected and reconnected that with contemporary concerns, personal and public, and with his own roots.
A great talent and a most engaging man.

Initial Illuminations
is indeed one of the very best of his war poems (an admittedly otherwise uneven category) and in my Penguin edition it's preceded by the complex and moving The Mother Of The Muses - for which I can't, at the moment, find a full text on the net to which to provide a link!

Last edited by Nigel Mace; 05-04-2017 at 02:21 AM.
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Old 05-04-2017, 02:48 AM
Gregory Dowling Gregory Dowling is offline
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Yes, The Mother of the Muses is another fine poem.

One of the great things he has done is take "class" out of the classics; a classical education has always been the distinguishing mark of the upper classes in our culture. He has spent his life in trying to take all snobbery out of the classics - even if a poem like "V" admits the near-impossibility of doing so. But there's something wonderful in his determination to translate Aeschylus into deliberately Anglo-Saxon rather than Latinate English, which is part of the same struggle.

I did a long review of his Collected Poems and his Film Poetry for an Italian poetry-magazine (in English), which you can find here.
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Old 05-04-2017, 04:59 AM
Nigel Mace Nigel Mace is offline
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Thank you so much for that eloquent and perceptive review article. You would have been delighted by how much of that 80th birthday evening was a personal spelling out of the themes, with readings of many of the examples, on which your article concentrates.
I do hope members here use the link which you've provided.
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Old 05-04-2017, 06:15 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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I'm afraid I skimmed the article - my eyes aren't good on font that size - but it's nice to see Keats and Wordsworth, for instance resituated in the truth of their own voice, as opposed to RP, and it underlines the irony of the young Harrison's ignorant teacher's remark. There's good important work yet to be done, i think, on British poets through the centuries and their non-RP accents (matter and water rhyming in Worsdworth, for instance). Or as Henry Higgins puts it: "The minute he opens his mouth / He makes some other Englishman despise him."

Cheers,
John
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Old 05-04-2017, 09:20 AM
Gregory Dowling Gregory Dowling is offline
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Thanks, Nigel. I'm glad you liked the article.

John, yes, I'm sorry about the font used. It's not very reader-friendly. But thanks for making the effort. And, yes, it is worth bearing in mind what accents Wordsworth and Keats would have actually had. And then it's fascinating to speculate what Shakespeare would have sounded like. Not to mention Chaucer...
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Old 05-04-2017, 09:59 AM
Clive Watkins Clive Watkins is offline
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I recall hearing on BBC radio many many years ago the fine Northumbrian poet Basil Bunting read Wordsworth's powerful poem "Michael". In Bunting’s version of a “north-country accent”, it made a strong impression, even though Wordsworth was born in Cumberland of mixed Yorkshire and Cumberland stock.

Clive Watkins
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Old 05-04-2017, 11:33 AM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Thanks for the article, Gregory, and for the report, Nigel. All I can contribute is a slightly relevant Stephen Fry QI clip. (I did say slightly.)
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Old 05-04-2017, 11:56 AM
Gregory Dowling Gregory Dowling is offline
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Thanks, Clive. I tried Googling to see if I could track down the Basil Bunting recording of "Michael" but there is no trace of it. And of course the BBC could well have wiped it...

Enjoyed the Stephen Fry, Julie - and the Scottish clip that followed it, too.
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