Wednesday, 9 February 2011

David Harsent at UEA

My task for the night is to introduce David Harsent at the UEA. It is always a glittering series and David is the first of the Spring Festival.

He was publishing long before me, well, ten years before me, though there is only six years between us in age. He was a young first-collection poet, probably no more than 26 at the time of A Violent Country (1969). A bricklayer's son, without university education, he fell into poetry through ballads at school and has spread his wings very wide since then, writing opera librettos for Harrison Birtwistle among others, and, under different names, translating poetry and writing thrillers as well as screenplays for Midsomer Murder, Holby City and The Bill. He has been nominated for more prizes than exist in the wildest imagination and deservedly won the 2005 Forward Prize for Legion.

I see from his Wiki entry that he won the Faber Prize for Poetry two years before I did (I shared mine with Hugo Williams) so there is a kind of parallel, though in publishing terms he was David Harsent (and not just David Harsent) some time before I was George Szirtes.

Holding mind-heart-life together is complicated. It isn't quite as simple as changing hats, though that isn't without its difficulties either, and it may be that in David the same dark silver stream flows through or under it all. The new book he is reading from tonight, 'Night' is very much a Harsent title: the poems nocturnal, mysterious, visionary (as others have noted). There are two special sequences in the book, the title poem, that springs out of insomnia, and Elsewhere which is like a hallucinatory ballad, part film noir, part ghost story, beautifully stitched together with hanging rhymes.

But that's what we'll talk about tonight if all goes well.


Couldn't post this before. We did talk about it tonight as about other things too. More tomorrow.


James Womack said...

"I see from his Wiki entry that he, like me, won the Faber Prize for Poetry two years before I did"

Whoa, time-travelling poet in double prize win shock!

George S said...

Well spotted, James. I see a missing 'but' there. I'll correct. That comes of typing late.

welker said...

Harrison Birtwistle - no Ys or wherefores...

George S said...

My apologies mjwal. Thank you. One typo, one unchecked mistake. Have corrected.