Sunday, 30 April 2017

Birthday Bash for Britain's Best Bard

Tony Harrison, who likes alliteration even if you don't, is 80 today.  He is far and away Britain’s most important living poet. 

I spent Thursday-Friday  at the British Academy, convening a celebration of his work, which caught the attention of the Guardian. His committed, radical voice, which swerves between joyous mischief-making and snarling despair at human cruelty, has reached far beyond the inward-looking Poetry Establishment. His life has affected yours whether you know it or not.

Harrison Fan Andy Burnham
Over these two days, Lee Hall said that he could not have made Billy Elliot without Harrison’s example.  Simon Armitage said that his own approach to poetry and the possibility of fusing literary sophistication with everyday experience were direct results of his youthful encounters with Harrison’s work. Andy Burnham said that he would never have gone into politics if he hadn’t read Harrison as an undergraduate.

The Story Harrison's Artistic  Example Underlies
Blake Morrison beautifully dissected Tony’s revolutionising of the English sonnet. Jo Balmer showed how he has transformed approaches to translation from classical languages globally. Peter Symes illustrated how he had pushed the boundaries of what is possible artistically on TV further than any other person.

Sian Thomas in Harrison's Fram
Theatre superstars Vanessa Redgrave, Jasper Britton, Sian Thomas and Barrie Rutter performed his verse with gusto and affection.  Sirs Melvyn Bragg and Richard Eyre acknowledged their long and sometimes tricky relationships with the uncompromisingly socialist Bard from Leeds. A superior class of  gatecrasher turned up in the charismatic form of Sir Tom Stoppard, who also joined our delicious feast, laid on for Tony by my admirable colleagues in the Centre for Hellenic Studies at King’s College London.

I was already walking on air when we gathered at the British Academy on Thursday, after listening to Tony’s latest play, Iphigenia in Crimea, directed by conference guest Emma Harding, and a documentary about his work. They were both broadcast on BBC last Sunday and are still available

Having him with us throughout the entire event was a surprise pleasure. A selection of his prose works, which I’ve edited (and supplied a Foreword of which you can read a version of here) is published this week. He'll be discussing it with me at a ticketed do on 24th May at Faber's London HQ.

Kicking Off Events on Thursday
Tony's spending his birthday today, Sunday 30th, doing what he does better than anyone—a public reading of some dazzling new poems at Salts Mills in West Yorkshire. He's found a  new generation of fans amongst the young (a conspicuous proportion of the attendees were in their twenties); he's Daniel Radcliffe’s favourite poet. His theatre works have begun to enjoy a major revival, beginning with the brilliant staging of Trackers of Oxyrhynchus by Jimmy Walters’ Proud Haddock theatre company in January.  

χρόνια πολλά!
I'm sure the cosmic satyrs of the celestial spheres will join us all in singing Happy Birthday Tony! Please Continue Inspiring Us  χαρούμενα γενέθλια!

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