Tony Harrison

Tony Harrison Poems

Though my mother was already two years dead
Dad kept her slippers warming by the gas,
put hot water bottles her side of the bed
and still went to renew her transport pass.

When the chilled dough of his flesh went in an oven
not unlike those he fuelled all his life,

Bottomless pits. There's on in Castleton,
and stout upholders of our law and order
one day thought its depth worth wagering on
and borrowed a convict hush-hush from his warder

How you became a poet's a mystery!
Wherever did you get your talent from?

I say: I had two uncles, Joe and Harry-


I thought it made me look more 'working class'
(as if a bit of chequered cloth could bridge that gap!)
I did a turn in it before the glass.
My mother said: It suits you, your dad's cap.

Your bed's got two wrong sides. You life's all grouse.
I let your phone-call take its dismal course:

Ah can't stand it no more, this empty house!

Tony Harrison Biography

Harrison was born in Leeds and educated at Leeds Grammar School and the University of Leeds, where he read Classics and took a diploma in Linguistics. For some years he has lived in Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne. The material of much of his poetry is provided by the memories of his working-class childhood. His poems and translations show a powerful command of rhyme and an expert adaptation of colloquial speech. His best known collections are The Loiners (1970) and The School of Eloquence. Cited from Professor Rick Rylance's analysis, focusing on "Book Ends" and "V", as well as the themes of political and personal division. "Tony Harrison is deservedly known as the poet of a distinctive kind of post-war experience. The son of a baker, raised in working-class Leeds, his work dramatises aspects of growing up in that life and the tension between it and the very different culture he entered through his educational success as a star pupil, first at Leeds Grammar School and then at university. Though often highly personal, his poetry explores themes representative of his generation's experience of increasing social mobility through education that was a feature of post-war life. Typically, this takes the form of meditations on exclusion, like that of Harrison's own family whose origins did not permit much cultural mobility." His best-known work is the long poem V. (1985), written during the miners' strike of 1984-85, and describing a trip to see his parents' grave in a Leeds cemetery "now littered with beer cans and vandalised by obscene graffiti". The title has several possible interpretations: victory, versus, verse etc. Proposals to screen a filmed version of V. by Channel 4 in October 1987 drew howls of outrage from the tabloid press, some broadsheet journalists, and MPs, apparently concerned about the effects its "torrents of obscene language" and "streams of four-letter filth" would have on the nation's youth. Indeed, an Early Day Motion entitled "Television Obscenity" was proposed on the 27th October 1987 by a group of Conservative MPs, who condemned Channel 4 and the Independent Broadcasting Authority. The motion was opposed by a single MP, Mr. Norman Buchan, who suggested that MPs had either failed to read or failed to understand (V.). The broadcast went ahead, and the brouhaha settled quickly after enough column inches had been written about the broadcast and reaction to the broadcast. Gerald Howarth said that Harrison was "Probably another bolshie poet wishing to impose his frustrations on the rest of us". When told of this, Harrison retorted that Howarth was "Probably another idiot MP wishing to impose his intellectual limitations on the rest of us". His adaption, The Mysteries, of the English Medieval Mystery plays, based on the York and Wakefield Mystery cycles, were first performed at the Royal National Theatre in 1985; in a promenade production in the Cottesloe Theatre. They were revived the following year, in the much larger space of the Lyceum Ballroom. In 1998, he wrote and directed a film, Prometheus, based on his poem of the same name, which links the myth of Prometheus - chained on a rock to have his liver eaten by the vulture Ethon as a punishment for the theft of fire - with the enchainment of workers in the Promethian industries - the closed coal mines of Yorkshire; the present day effects of heavy industry in Copşa Mică in Romania; to the gas ovens of Auschwitz, to Dresden and to Bomber Harris. The film involved driving a thirty foot golden statue of Prometheus from the industrial north of England to Greece, via Germany and a number of eastern European countries. His translation of Hecuba (2005), which emphasised the relevance of Euripides' drama to the Iraq War, was poorly received. His play Fram debuted in 2008 at the Royal National Theatre in London.)

The Best Poem Of Tony Harrison

Long Distance Ii

Though my mother was already two years dead
Dad kept her slippers warming by the gas,
put hot water bottles her side of the bed
and still went to renew her transport pass.

You couldn't just drop in. You had to phone.
He'd put you off an hour to give him time
to clear away her things and look alone
as though his still raw love were such a crime.

He couldn't risk my blight of disbelief
though sure that very soon he'd hear her key
scrape in the rusted lock and end his grief.
He knew she'd just popped out to get the tea.

I believe life ends with death, and that is all.
You haven't both gone shopping; just the same,
in my new black leather phone book there's your name
and the disconnected number I still call.

Submitted by Scott Dagostino

Tony Harrison Comments

Pete Jones 26 June 2012

Where's 'Them & Uz'? Any chance of adding it?

13 14 Reply
Chris Cormack 25 January 2014

Wish I could see the television film poem Blasphemers Banquet again - does anyone know where a dvd of it can be acquired?

12 14 Reply
Amanda Sharp 30 November 2022

It's now on Youtube. I tried to add the link but it's 'illegal' on this site. I hope you find it.

0 0
Sid John Gardner. 14 June 2007

One of Us is Tony..... Sid John Gardner.

8 14 Reply
Sylvia Frances Chan 08 August 2021

CONGRATULATIONS being chosen as The POET OF THE DAY by Poem Hunter and Team. Most deserving!

0 1 Reply
lollpop 04 May 2020

poo poo wee wee i really need a pee! ! ! ! !

0 1 Reply
george puta cinqo 07 October 2019

nibba tf is dat bs, tfu gettin dat shtt from! ! !

2 2 Reply
Pushpinder Kaur 11 December 2017

Unusual thoughts expressed in a unique manner! An engaging style that you wish to turn to time and again!

3 2 Reply
Geoff Sheddick 12 February 2017

I'd like to see his poem, commissioned by the Guardian in 1991, added to PoemHunter.

3 5 Reply

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