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This review is taken from PN Review 15, Volume 7 Number 1, September - October 1980.

SCHOLARS AND POETS Tony Harrison, From 'The School of Eloquence' and Other Poems (Rex Collings) £5.00
David Black, Gravitations (Macdonald) £3.00
Hugh Maxton, The Noise of the Fields (Dolmen Press) £1.95

Tony Harrison won critical acclaim when The Loiners appeared in 1972, and since then his translations for the National Theatre have been well received. Now comes From 'The School of Eloquence' and Other Poems, the title sequence taken from a work in progress. It reveals that Harrison's poetic gifts have found a subject to sustain them.

'The School of Eloquence' is a sequence of 'Meredithian' sonnets in which Harrison recalls forcefully his personal origins in industrial Leeds. There is nothing wistful about this retour au pays natal, for Harrison is tormented by a sense of alienation, of loss and betrayal. In a later poem, he notices how 'the sword/has developed immensely' whilst


. . . the pen is still only
a. point, a free ink-flow
and the witness it has to keep bearing.


Poets often celebrate their regional sources of inspiration, but Harrison recognizes that his chosen vocation as scholar-poet endows him with a burdensome knowledge, a knowledge that excludes him from communion with his working-class inheritance. What separates him from his father, he says, is 'books, books, books', for through them he has unlearned his native language: 'the tongue that once I used to know/but can't bone up on now, and that's mi mam's.' A master of Latin and Greek, Harrison now has to provide a glossary for another dying language; we need to be told that an 'Enoch' was a sledge-hammer used by the Luddites, ...


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