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This interview is taken from PN Review 81, Volume 18 Number 1, September - October 1991.

Tony Harrison in Conversation Clive Wilmer

At the heart of Tony Harrison's recent play, The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus, is his version of a fragmentary satyr play by Sophocles. But in Harrison's adaptation the Chorus of Satyrs - still goat-like and phallic, to be sure - is transformed into a squad of beery, North-Country clog-dancers. It is perhaps an attempt at resolving the conflict at the core of Harrison's work - between his polyglot erudition and his roots in working-class Leeds, between classical culture and class culture. Harrison has degrees in Classics and in Linguistics, has travelled all over the world and is conversant with several modern languages, including Hausa and Czech. Yet the more he travels in his art, the more insistently he returns to his home territory, where he finds himself cut off from his class, his family and - most ironically - the language he grew up with.

Harrison's adaptations for the stage of Moliére, Racine, Aeschylus and the medieval Mysteries represent a one-man renaissance of verse-drama in English. And at the same time, the power of his lyric poetry, too, seems to increase with each new publication: the controversial 'v', 'The Fire Gap', his poem for television 'The Blasphemers' Banquet', the hefty Penguin Selected Poems.

Clive Wilmer: I've heard it said that when you were quite young, you made a resolution to earn your living from writing poetry. Is that true?

Tony Harrison: I don't actually remember a date where I made a specific resolution, but ...


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