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This review is taken from PN Review 135, Volume 27 Number 1, September - October 2000.

FRUITILITY TONY HARRISON, Laureate's Block and Other Poems (Penguin) £7.99

Tony Harrison is perhaps the most public British poet of his generation, a central figure in the contemporary canon, yet his recent work has come under fierce attack, dismissed by some critics as a descent into the realms of doggerel. Some of the poems in his latest volume have been cited in support of this view. In 'A Celebratory Ode on the Abdication of King Charles III', Harrison's poetic judgement seems to have been clouded by his fervent anti-republicanism, as he anticipates a time

when Britons lose their taste for fawning
on Lords and Ladies, Dames and Knights
dubbed by bepurpled parasites
and will demand a Bill of Rights.

However, this mock commemorative poem, first published in the Guardian in 1995, parodies the versification of royal occasions, and the clumsy effects are surely intentional. Harrison aims his strident political poetry at the widest possible audience, hence the tendency towards a more plainspoken form of address in recent years. The shock of his parents' deaths led Harrison to realise that he had failed to find a way of speaking directly to and for those about whom he wrote. In protagonists like the skinhead in his long poem v., the satyrs n the play The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus, and the socialist ex-miner in his film Prometheus, Harrison has sought to give a poetic voice to the supposedly inarticulate. Another formative influence on Harrison's attempt to create accessible, politically committed verse derives from ...


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