Tony Harrison

May 9, 2007

tony-harrison.jpg
(1937-)

Born in Leeds, England to a working class family
Poems embody the tension of the classically educated son and his humble origins
His triumph has been to bring the sensual power, vigor, wit and immediacy of working-class Yorkshire speech into an exciting amalgam with literary English
Writes poetry, plays, and translated opera libretti

Quotations:

I
Baked the day she suddenly dropped dead/ we chew it slowly that last apple pie.
Shocked into sleeplessness you’re scared of bed./ We never could talk much, and now don’t try.
You’re like book ends, the pair of you, she’d say,/ Hog that grate, say nothing, sit, sleep, stare . . .
The ‘scholar’ me, you, worn out on poor pay,/ only our silence made us seem a pair.

II
The sone’s too full. The wording must be terse./ There’s scarcely room to carve the FLORENCE on it-
Come on, it’s not as if we’re wanting verse./ It’s not as if we’re wanting a whole sonnet!
After tumblers of neat Johnny Walker/ (I think that both of us we’re on our third)/ you said you’d always been a clumsy talker/ and couldn’t find another, shorter word/ for ‘beloved’ or for ‘wife’ in the inscription,/ but not too clumsy that you can’t still cut:
You’re supposed to be the bright boy at description/ and you can’t tell them what the fuck to put!
I’ve got to find the right words on my own.
I’ve got the envelope that he’d been scrawling,/ mis-spelt, mawkish, stylistically appalling/ but I can’t squeeze more love into their stone.

-Book Ends

When the chilled dough of his flesh went in an oven/ not unlike those he fuelled all his life,/ I thought of his cataracts ablaze with Heaven/ and radiant with the sight of his dead wife,/ light streaming from his mouth to shape her name,/ ‘not Florence and not Flo but always Florrie’./ I thought how his cold tongue burst into flame/ but only literally, which makes me sorry,/ sorry for his sake there’s no Heaven to reach./ I get it all from Earth my daily bread/ but he hungered for release from mortal speech/ that kept him down, the tongue that weighed like lead.
The baker’s man that no one will see rise/ and England made to feel like some dull oaf/ is smoke, enough to sting one person’s eyes/ and ash (not unlike flour) for one small loaf.

-Marked with D. (in whole)

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