Tony Harrison

Tony Harrison’s ‘V’ was first published in the LRB in 1985.

Poem: ‘Polygons’

Tony Harrison, 19 February 2015

Dionysius of Halicarnassus once likened Aeschylus’ poetry to this Cyclopean wall beneath Apollo’s temple before us, this wall I always gaze on whenever in Delphi, blocks shaped like continents pre-early Jurassic where capers cascade down landlocked Pangaea, polygonal Gondwanaland, in tasselly swathes. Unspaced Greek capitals cross all the cracks keeping blocks bonded with alphabet...

Poem: ‘Black Sea Aphrodite’

Tony Harrison, 21 November 2013

Chersonesos, Crimea. Archaeologists reassemble miscellaneous pebbles to restore Aphrodite found on the Black Sea the year of my birth, 1937, by Kiev’s Prof. Belov. An Aphrodite of pebbles made fatal as missiles when flung by fervid adultress-denouncers, in sects so hyper-pious they damn all such couplings, and stipulate suitable sizes for stoning so adultresses the goddess had goaded to...

Poem: ‘Cornet and Cartridge’

Tony Harrison, 17 February 2011

I look through lace curtains in the Swell hotel with glass in its windows not panicking plastic like the one I’d camped out in during the war, and see morning mist in now sniperless hills. Next door ’s the old hotel, the Shell not the Swell with sunflower shell-bursts on its windowless sills, some deep enough at least for sparrows to nest in, and my shadow makes them fly up in a...

Poem: ‘Piazza Sannazaro’

Tony Harrison, 21 October 2010

i. One reason why we stay in Mergellina in our favourite city Napoli ’s to eat fresh shellfish with volcanic Falanghina

at Pasqualino’s outside in the street in the Piazza Sannazaro, a small square named for the poet I’m inviting you to meet.

Two greater poets’ tombs are close to there, Virgil and Leopardi, whose verse nurtured mine but ignore for now that more...

Poem: ‘Diary’

Tony Harrison, 12 February 2009

I’ve always been aware one day I’ll die but I feel my real mortality begin when this year, for the first time, I’ve filled in the ‘in case of emergency please notify:’

Poem: ‘Wasted Ink’

Tony Harrison, 6 November 2008


So much black ink expended and still speared!

From here, where I’ve been happiest, and my most down, I can see the last place you’d been happy in. Down from Apollo’s wrecked temple with caper plants flowing out of the cracks of once sacrosanct columns, across Amphissa olives to Itea and sea. Twenty years since then, I still can hear, above the squeak of sneakers on the...

Three Poems

Tony Harrison, 26 April 2007


Those golden hairs I’m stroking on your thigh I only get to glimpse in this Greek light and only here do claw-snags on my hand, (from grappling with our lunch of garavides, the Greek word for the local langoustines) the back of which has those dark freckle marks my grampa called his ‘grave-spots’, catch on your glittering Galaxidi-gilded hairs.



Poem: ‘October 2006’

Tony Harrison, 2 November 2006

This ladder creaks. Take that ring off I bought for you in Gdansk, first token of my growing love, with the 40-million-year-old fly embalmed in its amber, resin oozed before Man, not to bruise the apples I drop for you to catch from the Bramley I planted after that Polish trip.

Poem: ‘Fireguard’

Tony Harrison, 15 December 2005

The best wood to make chips with for our fire was from bakehouse boxes Dad brought smeared with lard. It had a whiplash crack. Its sparks leaped higher. You had to look sharpish with the fireguard.

Primed with Posts Mam plaited the greased chips lit with a purple sputter and deep hiss. More than childhood’s pier-machines or sherbet dips this fire I learned to lay’s what I most...

Poem: ‘On the Metre’

Tony Harrison, 2 June 2005

I’m always quoting le coeur bat l’iambe – Jean-Louis Barrault on the metre of Racine. Blood recorded on an echocardiogram in synch with karaoke squid shapes on the screen, I hear now with a woman in white coat. Though not iambic, more fluttery trochee, the odd dochmaic, anapaest, I note the verse in my pounding heart at least’s not free.

The beat’s in a blood...

Poem: ‘Florida Frost’

Tony Harrison, 17 February 2005

Cancer carried off his cherished wife as Florida floundered in a freak harsh freeze and let the fahrenheit out of his life never to gain back its lost degrees. He still can’t quite believe she’s wholly lost. He no more thought he’d see his dear one go than that he’d see in Florida a frost with that sudden drop last year to 12 below.

Grapefruit first froze then splurted...

Two Poems

Tony Harrison, 21 October 2004


One year in Washington DC a girl I got to know said she came from Germany. She looked quite like Bardot.

And her first name was Brigitte (rhymes with bitter not with sweet) and though things turned out bitter we met for walks, for drinks, to eat.

In a little while she let me see her total tan, breasts, belly, legs. And that Easter Sunday in DC she brought me Easter eggs.


Poem: ‘Cremation Eclogue’

Tony Harrison, 11 September 2003

Pig pyres are crackling in the snow-flecked fields, dawn bonfires next to cleaned out byres and folds. I know my taxi driver. FMD, the tragic traincrash (ten dead) yesterday are what we talk about: Heddon-on-the-Wall may be infected from untreated swill, the micro virus and the cattle plague that could cross borders between bloc and bloc when the world was so divided, let alone unpatrolled...

Poem: ‘PM am’

Tony Harrison, 22 May 2003

Why is it, Lord, although I’m right I find it hard to sleep at night? I often wake up in a sweat they’ve not found WMDs yet! The thought that preys most on my mind, is maybe the only arms they’ll find (unless somehow I get MI6 to plant them to be found by Blix, that’s if the UN sneaks back in) are Ali’s in the surgeon’s bin.

Poem: ‘Under the Clock’

Tony Harrison, 17 April 2003

Under Dyson’s clock in Lower Briggate was where my courting parents used to meet. It had a Father Time and Tempus Fugit sticking out sideways into the street above barred windows full of wedding bands, ‘eternities’ to be inscribed with names, like that I felt on Dad’s when we held hands, or on Mam’s crumbling finger in cremation’s flames.

Today back on...

Poem: ‘The Grilling’

Tony Harrison, 6 June 2002

I’d just walked up and down Vesuvio as Goethe did two centuries ago. At the bottom with a bottle of white wine I heard the great poet talking to Tischbein:

Vesuvio puffing smoke out not far off flavours this fine vino that we quaff. That force that belches forth its molten mass has poured this tinkling gold in my raised glass. Devastation, Tischbein, ancient waste gives this Vesuvial...

Two Poems

Tony Harrison, 10 May 2001

Queuing for Charon


Cretans still can’t stand ‘the Krauts’ but don’t turn them away, gaga ex-Nazis, lager louts, cramming Crete on holiday. Fifty-odd years of so-called peace fill beaches with old foes. Northern Europe flocks to Greece to warm its frozen toes. And my old carcass likes these coasts, archaeology and joy, but even in Greek sun the ghosts come back to...

Poem: ‘The Gifts of Aphrodite’

Tony Harrison, 4 January 2001

These figs missed the picker moved to pluck tokens of love or welcome to strangers, missed bird, missed casual snacker, so are burst and outspread as red as hibiscus, scuffed pistil opera plush, carmine mite-view velveteen the pile of posh bathrobes. The carob pods clatter, as the woman rattles her long pole in the tree, down through the branches to the roadside ditch from which she picks a...

Two Poems: ‘Fruitility’

Tony Harrison, 28 October 1999


What a glorious gift from Gaia, raspberries piled on papaya, which as a ruse to lift my soul I serve up in my breakfast bowl, and, contemplating, celebrate nature’s fruit, and man’s air-freight speeding my fruit breakfast here through tropo- and through stratosphere. I praise papaya and celebrate the man who packed it in its crate, the worker or Hawaiian grower in...

Poem: ‘Doncaster’

Tony Harrison, 15 April 1999

I’ve noticed Donny’s bridal gownshop’s lights are only on, in winter, Saturday nights. Though window shopping for white wedding gear ’s not done this coldest, darkest time of year, maybe, the owner reckons, as they pass those near-nude girls, reflected in the glass, might remember his window’s lacy white, if they get pregnant from their date tonight.

In Donny at...

We may be that generation that sees Armageddon.Ronald Reagan, 1980

My brother, my bright twin, Prochorus, I think his bright future’s been wrecked. When we’ve both got our lives before us he’s gone and joined this weird sect.

He sits in a cave with his guru, a batty old bugger called John and scribbles on scrolls stuff to scare you while the rabbi goes rabbiting on.


Poem: ‘The Mother of the Muses’

Tony Harrison, 5 January 1989

In memoriam Emmanuel Stratas, born Crete 1903, died Toronto 1987

After I’ve lit the fire and looked outside and found us snowbound and the roads all blocked, anxious to prove my memory’s not ossified and the way into that storehouse still unlocked, as it’s easier to remember poetry, I try to remember, but soon find it hard, a speech from Prometheus a boy from Greece BC...

Poem: ‘Following Pine’

Tony Harrison, 6 February 1986

When a plumber glues some lengths of PVC that pipe our cold spring water from its source, or a carpenter fits porch-posts, and they see, from below or from above, the heartwood floors made from virgin lumber, such men say, as if they’d taught each other the same line:Boards like them boards don’t exist today! then maybe add: Now everything’s new pine.

Though the house is in...

Poem: ‘V.’

Tony Harrison, 24 January 1985

My father still reads the dictionary every day. He says your life depends on your power to master words.

Arthur Scargill, Sunday Times, 10 January 1982

Next millennium you’ll have to search quite hard to find my slab behind the family dead, butcher, publican, and baker, now me, bard adding poetry to their beef, beer and bread.

With Byron three graves on I’ll not go short of...

If​ his English teacher hadn’t been so snootily discouraging, it’s unlikely that Tony Harrison would have gone on to write as much as he has: by my calculation, 13 plays, 11 films...

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One of the great pleasures of reading Tony Harrison is the sense of quick passage between worlds, the sudden switch from the local to the international and back. At one moment he immerses us in a...

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The first literary appearance of the mythical figure of Prometheus (whose name means ‘foresight’) is in the writings of Hesiod. Hesiod’s Titan is something of a trickster, of...

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Christ’s Teeth

C.K. Stead, 10 October 1991

‘Dates, dates are of the essence; and it will be found that I date quite exactly the breakdown of the imaginative exploit of the Cantos: between the completion of the late sequence called...

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Here comes Amy

Christopher Reid, 17 April 1986

Amy Clampitt is a most spirited and exhilarating performer. An enormous appetite for observation and zeal to describe precisely what she has observed are transmitted through both the best and the...

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Dialect does it

Blake Morrison, 5 December 1985

Poetry written in dialect seems to be undergoing a resurgence. Tony Harrison has made extensive use of Northern idioms. Tom Paulin has been busy raiding Ulster (and, I suspect, Scottish)...

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Venisti tandem

Denis Donoghue, 7 February 1985

A year or two ago, Geoffrey Hartman urged literary critics to declare their independence. They should not regard criticism as an activity secondary to the literature it addressed, but as an art...

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Blake Morrison, 1 April 1982

There are grounds for thinking Tony Harrison the first genuine working-class poet England has produced this century. Of course, poets from D.H. Lawrence to Craig Raine can boast a proletarian...

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