Tony Harrison: The Queen’s English
Last meal together, Leeds, the Queen’s Hotel
that grandish pile of swank in City Square
Too posh for me, he said (even though he dressed well)
if you wern’t wi’ me ah’d nivver dare!
I knew that he’d decided to die
not by the way he lingered at the bar
not by the look he’d give me with one good-eye
nor by the firmer handshake and the gruff ta-ra
But when he browsed the station bookstall sales
he picked up ‘Poems from the Yorkshire Dales’
‘ere tek this un wi’ yer to New York
to remind you of ‘ow us gaffers used to talk.
It’s up your street in’t it? ‘ahh buy yer that!
The broken lines go through me speeding South -
As t’doctor stopped to oppen woodland yet…
wi’ skill they puttin wuds reet i’ his mouth
This poem is by a poet I’m just trying to discover and sort out in my head. It’s quoted from the Selected Poems (Penguin), and is from the sequence School of Eloquence. (Addendum: I’ve no idea how to do it with the wordpress interface, but the last line should be slightly indented!)
Harrison in general is fascinating, but the poems in School of Eloquence are nothing short of stunning. In them, Harrison shows himself to be one of the select groups of extraordinary poets who have written a sequence of sonnet or sonnet-like poems, which is grafted to the poet’s own unique voice. John Berryman’s Dreamsongs or Robert Lowell’s Notebook (including the stunning revisions in History and For Lizzie and Harriet),Edwin Morgan’s Sonnets from Scotland, Ted Berrigan’s melodious Sonnets or even Geoffrey Hill’s incredible Mercian Hymns (though these are different in significant ways). I think that McHale’s project of discovering the postmodern long poem failed because he didn’t see or care about this pattern of songs that arose at roughly the same time. These are all flabbergasting achievements, although I haven’t read enough of Tony Harrison’s work to properly read and assess his work. But even from the little I have read, I can’t but recommend this excellent poet.