Synopses & Reviews
This book examines the political meanings of Tony Harrison's imaginative works and offers a reassessment of the poet's political character. While Harrison's class political analysis has been central to much of the discussion of his poetry, his concern with colonialism still generates relatively little commentary. The nature of his republicanism and its importance for his poetry has been neglected, while his humanism tends to be seen as at odds with his politics. This study discusses Harrison's concern with internal colonialism in the United Kingdom and internationalist anti-colonial poetic. It witnesses the radical political inclusiveness of his humanism and his giving the dispossessed a voice in his high cultural poetry. Particular attention is accorded to his ambiguous identification with John Milton as a great republican poet, his location of Milton and himself in a radical republican literary lineage, and his wider excavation of that lineage. It also illuminates Harrison's unnoticed elective affinity with Arthur Rimbaud as a regional poet with the wrong accent, as 'a hoodlum poet' who fell silent and became an explorer and fortune-seeker in Africa, as a white 'n gre', and as the great outsider now f ted as a high cultural poet. Harrison's political convictions and loyalties will be shown to be consistent in the different historical, literary, and social contexts that the poems take as their subjects, or that are opened up by their allusive fields. The book will newly establish that the creative dialectical interplay between the class, anti-colonial, and radical republican and humanist aspects of the poetry, and his literary elective affinities, are essential for understanding the aesthetics and the politics of the Rimbaud of Leeds. The Rimbaud of Leeds is a literary contextual study of the political meanings of important poems by the Leeds poet Tony Harrison (1937 - ). It is based primarily on an examination of Harrison's non-dramatic original poetry that appears in The Loiners (1970), the ongoing sonnet sequence The School of Eloquence (1978- ), and the separately published v. (1985), while presenting that work within an awareness of his complete oeuvre. Reference and illuminating comparison is made to other germane works, to Harrison's account of his work in interviews and prefaces, and to his newly available letters, notebooks, and manuscripts. The principal focus of the book is the political character of the poetry. The poems selected for examination are exemplars of what I argue is Harrison's radical humanist and republican poetic, and of how issues of class and colonialism are interrelated in the poetry. The book locates the works in previously unnoticed or neglected contexts, and shows the critical importance of history for understanding the poems. It reveals Harrison's detailed engagement with the politics and history of England and Africa in particular. New contextual information necessary for understanding the political, historical, biographical and literary references in the poems is offered in the book, and it sketches the key political and aesthetic features of the poetry.