The Authentic Snarl

Blake Morrison

  • The Inky Digit of Defiance: Selected Prose 1966-2016 by Tony Harrison, edited by Edith Hall
    Faber, 544 pp, £25.00, April, ISBN 978 0 571 32503 0
  • Collected Poems by Tony Harrison
    Penguin, 464 pp, £9.99, April 2016, ISBN 978 0 241 97435 3

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 and twenty or more poetry collections and pamphlets, not to mention the essays and addresses assembled in Edith Hall’s edition of his selected prose. That teacher, commemorated but unnamed in the poem ‘Them & [uz]’, was so dismayed by Harrison’s ‘barbarian’ recital of Keats’s ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ in a Northern working-class accent that he called a halt after only four words:

‘Can’t have our glorious heritage done to death …
Poetry’s the speech of kings. You’re one of those
Shakespeare gives the comic bits to: prose!’

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[*] The poem was published first in the LRB of 24 January 1985.