Tony Harrison Analysis

Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Tony Harrison has strong, continuing connections with the theater and opera. His version of Molière’s Le Misanthrope (1666; The Misanthrope, 1709) was produced by Great Britain’s National Theatre in 1973, and his radical adaptation of Jean Racine’s Phèdre (1677; Phaedra, 1701)—whose title, Phaedra Brittanica, suggests how far he took it away from its source—appeared in 1975. His adaptation of Aeschylus’s Oresteia (458 b.c.e.; English translation, 1777) came in 1981. He has also worked in opera, both as a librettist (with Harrison Birtwistle in Bow Down in 1977) and as a regular translator and adaptor for the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He provided the English lyrics for Mikis Theodorakis’s songs for the film The Blue Bird (1976).

Harrison has a wide range of interests as a translator, and the occasional translation often shows up in his volumes of poetry, but he also addresses himself to more substantial translation projects. While a lecturer in English in Nigeria, he collaborated with James Simmons on a translation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrat (411 b.c.e.; Lysistrata, 1837) into the Pidgin English of a native tribe. He is also the translator of the work of the fourth century c.e. Greek epigrammatist Palladas, and the selection Poems appeared in 1975. In 1988, he wrote his first play, The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus, which was published in 1990.

Tony Harrison Achievements

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Unusual in actually being able to make a living as a poet, albeit by adapting his talents to the theater, Tony Harrison is a major spokesperson for that peculiarly British phenomenon, the educated, working-class intellectual, nostalgically loyal to the class from which he came while committed without hypocrisy to the primarily middle-to-upper-middle-class world of the arts with all its comforts and civilities.

In 1969, Harrison won the Cholmondeley Award for Poetry, and in the same year the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) Fellowship in Poetry allowed him to travel as a representative of the international world of poetry to South America and Africa. Those journeys through several countries were to be used as subjects of several poems in his later publications. In 1972, The Loiners, his first full-length collection, won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. Other awards include the European Poetry Translation Prize (1983) for his translation of Aeschylus’s Oresteia, the Whitbread Prize for Poetry (1992) for The Gaze of the Gorgon, the Prix Italia (1994) for the film Black Daisies for the Bride, the Heinemann Award (1996) for The Shadow of Hiroshima, and Other Film/Poems, the Northern Rock Foundation Writer’s Award (2004), the Wilfred Owen Poetry Prize (2007), and the first PEN/Pinter prize (2009).

He has held numerous fellowships, having been named a Northern Arts Fellow in Poetry at Universities of Newcastle and Durham in 1967-1968 and 1976-1977; a Gregynog Arts Fellow at University of Wales in 1973-1974, a UK/US Bicentennial Arts Fellow, New York, in 1979-1980; and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1984.

Tony Harrison Bibliography

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Astley, Neil, ed. Tony Harrison. London: Bloodaxe Books, 1989. Astley has done a great service in bringing together the best academic journal articles written about Harrison, who has emerged as a major subject for scholars and poetry critics.

Byrne, Sandie, ed. H, V., and O: The Poetry of Tony Harrison. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998. Critical interpretation of Harrison’s poetry focusing on the three poems of the title. Includes bibliographic references and an index.

_______. Tony Harrison: Loiner. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Commemorates the sixtieth birthday of Harrison through an exploration of his work, including that of his best-known poem, “The Loiners.” Includes personal recollections of working with Harrison and critical analyses of his techniques and themes.

Kelleher, Joe. Tony Harrison. Plymouth, England: Northcote House, 1996. A brief critical introduction to Harrison’s work.

Merriman, Emily Taylor, and Adrian Grafe, eds. Intimate Exposure: Essays on the Public-Private Divide in British Poetry Since 1950. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2010. Two essays look at Harrison’s poetry, examining the divide between his public poetry and his more personal verse.

Rowland, Anthony J. Tony Harrison and the Holocaust. Liverpool, England: Liverpool University Press, 2001. Argues that while some of Harrison’s poems are barbaric, they can be evaluated as committed responses to the worst horrors of twentieth century history.

Sheehan, Sean. The Poetry of Tony Harrison. London: Greenwich Exchange, 2008. Provides a book-length analysis of Harrison’s poetry.

Thurston, Michael. The Underworld in Twentieth-Century Poetry: From Pound and Eliot to Heaney and Walcott. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. Contains a chapter analyzing Harrison’s V.