In his review of Tony Harrison’s ‘Collected Poems’, Gregory Dowling* sees Harrison’s poem “On Not Being Milton ” (from which see below) as “ suggesting a parallel between the northern poet raising his voice and the Luddite rebellion, in which the weavers smashed the new frames that were putting them out of work with sledge-hammers, known as ‘Enochs’.
‘Each swung cast-iron Enoch of Leeds stress
Clangs a forged music on the frames of Art,
The looms of owned language smashed apart..’
He suggests that the underlying thesis of this sequence of poems is to assert that it is by ‘owning’ the language that the ‘ ruling classes ’ have managed to maintain their social supremacy; so Harrison has taken up the task of speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves – “bringing the voices of the northern working classes into the classical forms of English poetry…”
Whether this justifies Dowling’s “ poetry as class-warfare” rhetoric is for discussion, but it is certainly the case that, for Harrison, poetry is a ‘job’, a ‘craft’, linked with and on behalf of his community – precisely that poetry of involvement that I have been talking about, and missing, in the context of other, more current social and economic disintegration. Continue Reading »