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

BRACKETS Bloodaxe Critical Anthologies: 1, Tony Harrison, edited by Neil Astley (Bloodaxe) £25.00, £10.95 pb

The title of Neil Astley's preface to this volume, 'The Wizard of [Uz]', proclaims Tony Harrison a poet of qualified inclusiveness. A valuable resumé, this bulky selection of reviews and critical essays inevitably asks how far Harrison succeeds in assimilating personal and public oppositions - or to use the book's addictive shorthand, his V's.

V, the confrontational elegy that launched this terminology, is a typical example of Harrison's public projection of the quarrel with himself. Here he 'merges' with the skinhead alter-ego who has just desecrated his parents' grave; the poet's 'Fuck off you skinhead cunt!' marks the moment of linguistic coition. This union in opposition exemplifies the dynamic of the poem. It's hard to blame Harrison for winding down in later stanzas with the refrain 'Home, home to my woman', but as Terry Eagleton cautions in his essay'Antagonisms: V', important not to mistake the evocation of sexual union for political closure.

A similar resolution concludes 'The Mother of the Muses', the new poem at the end of this book. Setting it in a Toronto old people's home, Harrison dramatizes, among other things, senility (personal and cultural), amnesia and the dissolution of the self. Returning home, he can only despairingly assert: 'come oblivion or not, I loved my wife'. The Occam's razor of Harrison's scepticism, so effectively wielded in the 'Palladas' translations, means that he is unwilling, or unable, to identify himself with causes or systems. This is unusual in a writer frequently billed as ...


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