© Image by Jane Bown

Tony Harrison

(b. 1937)

"How you became a poet's a mystery! /  
Where did you get your talent from? /  
I say: I had two uncles, Joe and Harry - /  
one was a stammerer, the other dumb."
- 'Heredity', Tony Harrison

Share this page

Share this page Bookmark and Share


These poems come from a special recording for the Poetry Archive:

! Missing Player !
To listen to the Archive's recordings, software called Adobe Flash Player (version 10) needs to be installed on your computer and you need to enable JavaScript in your browser settings.

Adobe Flash Player can be downloaded, free of charge, here.

Select bibliography

  • The Loiners, London Magazine Editions, 1970
  • The Misanthrope (translator), Rex Collings, 1973
  • From the School of Eloquence and Other Poems, Rex Collings, 1981
  • A Kumquat for John Keats, Bloodaxe, 1981
  • Continuous (50 Sonnets from the School of Eloquence and Other Poems), Rex Collings, 1981
  • The Oresteia (adaptation), Collings, 1981
  • V, Bloodaxe, 1985
  • Square Rounds, Faber and Faber, 1992
  • The Gaze of the Gorgon, Bloodaxe, 1992
  • Black Daisies for the Bride, Faber and Faber, 1993
  • Selected Poems, Penguin, 1995
  • The Shadow of Hiroshima and Other Film/Poems, Faber and Faber, 1995
  • Plays(Contents: Poetry or Bust; The Kaisers of Carnuntum; The Labourers of Herakles) Faber and Faber, 1996
  • Plays 3 (Contents: 'Poetry or Bust'; 'Kaisers of Carnuntum'; 'Labourers of Herakles'), Faber and Faber, 1996
  • Plays 1 (Contents: 'The Nativity'; 'The Passion'; 'Doomsday') Faber and Faber, 1999
  • Laureate's Block and Other Occasional Poems, Penguin 2000
  • Plays 2 (Contents: 'The Prince's Play'; 'The Misanthrope'; 'Phaedra Britannica') Faber and Faber, 2002
  • Plays 4 (Translator; contents: 'The Oresteaia'; 'The Common Chorus') Faber and Faber, 2002
  • Plays 5(Contents: 'The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus'; 'Square Rounds') Faber and Faber, 2004
  • Under the Clock, Penguin 2005
  • Selected Poems Penguin, 2006
  • Collected Poems, Viking, 2007
  • Tony Harrison Reading from his poems, The Poetry Archive, 2007
  • Collected Film Poetry, Faber and Faber, 2007
Tony Harrison is Britain's principal film and theatre poet and has famously said "Poetry is all I write, whether for books, or readings, or for the National Theatre, or for the opera house and concert hall, or even for TV." He was born in Leeds in 1937, won a scholarship to Leeds grammar and read Classics at Leeds University. Harrison's first two collections of poems The Loiners (1970) and From the School of Eloquence (1978), explore the gulf between his own class background and his education and the powerlessness of the inarticulate - in 'National Trust' "the tongueless man gets his land took" In an interview for the Guardian he said "I wanted to write the poetry that people like my parents might respond to." His work demands to be read aloud, and for him rhyme and rhythm, particularly the iamb are inspired by English speech patterns and "keep[s] the connection to the heartbeat".

Tony Harrison's success stems from the fact that he is a classicist from the working class; a scholar seeking a mass audience. His most controversial narrative poem 'v', prompted by vandals desecrating his parents' gravestones during the miner's strike, achieved front page headlines, was broadcast on Channel 4 in 1987 and won a Royal Television Society Award. Since then, he has continued with his quest to make poetry a public art through the mediums of television and film. Among his film/poems, 'The Shadow of Hiroshima' (1995) was screened on Channel 4, the published text won the Heinemann Award and 'Black Daisies' won the Prix Italia.

In 1995, he was commissioned by The Guardian to visit Bosnia and write poems about the war. Although "doubtful, in these dark days what poems can do" ('Initial Illumination'), Harrison once again gives a voice to the inarticulate though poetry, in what he describes as the most ceremonial form of speech. 'A Cold Coming' speaks up for the burned corpse of an Iraqi soldier in metrical rhyming couplets - a form that seems to keep hold of sense in such troubled times. 1n 2007 he was awarded the Wilfred Owen poetry award.

Hearing Tony Harrison's own voice on this recording, the cadences and rhythms, his poems come alive in the performing of them - bringing them out from the silence of the page. He describes using meter as "like being on a trapeze but having a wire to catch you if you fall", and it feels here as if the listener is being taken on such a journey.

This recording was made on the 19th March 2007 at the Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.


1972 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, The Loiners

1983 European Poetry Translation Prize, The Oresteia

1987 The Royal Television Society Award, V

1992 Whitbread Poetry Award, The Gaze of the Gorgon

1994 Prix Italia (Italy), Black Daisies for the Bride (film)

1996 Heinemann Award, The Shadow of Hiroshima and Other Film/Poems

2004 Northern Rock Foundation Writer's Award

2007 Wilfred Owen Poetry Award

Search for a poem or a poet:

My Archive

Create lists of your favourite poems and poets and share them with friends.

Browse all poets by name

View all poets

Browse all poems by title

View all poems

Glossary of poetic terms

View full glossary
Historic recordings Hear famous voices from poetry's past.

View all historic recordings
Support The Poetry Archive The Poetry Archive depends on donations from public bodies and private individuals. Find out how you can contribute to the work of the Archive.