Tony Harrison Quotes

  1. One of the important things about familiar form and metricality is that it draws attention to the physical nature of language: the spell-binding nature of it and the ceremony of articulation.
  2. The imagination has its limits, and you have to face up to that.
  3. I like a direct relationship between actor and audience.
  4. I need to look back on my poetic ventures, make sense of them as a whole, and move forward… and to experiment without external demands.
  5. I hate being called poet/dramatist/translator/director. ‘Poet’ covers it all for me.
  6. I’ve always had the wish, the need, and the obsession to become a public poet.
  7. I wanted to learn Latin and Greek and become a poet and acquire power over language. I only understand this clearly in retrospect, that my ability to study came from a hunger to learn all the resources of articulation.
  8. I was brought up on music hall, and at the same time, I was studying Greek at the age of 12.
  9. There’s a kind of despair about whether art can really do anything, but you have to incorporate that despair into the way you work. I try to soak my work in my sense of futility and fury.
  10. The ear will surrender even at those times when the eye wants to close, when the eye doesn’t want to watch.
  11. Of course you have to provide for the vulnerable and the children, but also, the vulnerable and the children need art in some form or another. You need spiritual experiences that, I think, forms of art give best.
  12. You litter poems with too much learning when you’re younger.
  13. I often find myself quoting from Victor Hugo after one of my theatrical ventures. ‘Now that my play is a failure,’ he once said, ‘I find I love it all the more.’ I first quoted that after ‘Square Rounds’ at the Olivier in 1992.
  14. Statues are one of the ways I try to test the traditions of European culture against the most modern destructive forces. I often make a point of seeking them out and have used them as mouthpieces in my film poetry, as with Heinrich Heine in ‘The Gaze of the Gorgon.’
  15. ‘Night Mail’ belongs quintessentially to the age of steam. It is impossible to simply go with the idea of remaking it.
  16. I am capable of bad taste – deliberately.
  17. Yes, I’ve got inwardness and tenderness, but I also get angry and vituperative, and you have to honour that as well.
  18. I think poems belong as much in the news pages as the literary pages. A lot of people throw aside the literary pages! Whereas everybody looks at the news section.
  19. A lot of my activity in the theatre, and even in writing poems, was a kind of retrospective aggro on the English teacher who wouldn’t allow me to read poetry aloud.
  20. You can make poems out of anger as well as tenderness. You can make poetry out of anything. It can be the ugliest of emotions. It doesn’t have to be sweetness and light.
  21. I have always loved radio as a medium.
  22. I’ve written on public matters, but I don’t understand how anyone could tout me as a possible poet laureate when I wrote a poem on the abdication of King Charles III or about the sex life of the Royals… anybody who knew my work would know I’m not a contender.
  23. For me, there is a paradox in poetry, which is like the paradox in tragedy. You have the most terrible subject, but it’s in a form that is so sensually gratifying that it connects the surviving heart to the despairing intellect.
  24. You get early inoculation against the idea of success if you’re a poet. When I published my first collection of sonnets, I sold about five copies; now kids study them for A level. Wanting to be successful in that other world of money or fame is not interesting. Poetry isn’t like that, and it never has been.
  25. I love being on the road with others, with a camera, but also being alone writing poetry.
  26. Looking back, fire images have been constant in my poetry. As a boy, it was my job to light the fire each morning, and I remember the celebratory bonfires at the end of the war. It was from staring into fire that I began my first poetry.
  27. Why shouldn’t poetry address what happened yesterday and be published in the newspaper?
  28. Coming from a very inarticulate family made me try to speak for those who can’t express themselves and created a need for articulation at its most ceremonial – poetry.
  29. I’ve realised darkness and light are inter-dependent, just as death is an enhancer of life.
  30. I really admire the great Japanese artists who could change their name three times in a lifetime. You could get rid of one and renew yourself.
  31. It is always better to write for the whole of society than for the poetry-reading public.
  32. I believe more in the power of drama than in the power of religion.
  33. I’m hoping to have a ninth decade like Matisse’s.
  34. I think it’s the tendency to want to create gods and monotheistic absolutes and absolute certainties that is the continual temptation in human thought – that’s the great danger. Every time we create a god, we diminish humanity.
  35. Theatre has to be theatrical. It has to draw attention to itself, like poetry.
  36. I hate the anglicanisation of culture, the idea that culture is genteel. It’s not genteel.
  37. It’s been an obsession with me from childhood, the horrors of the twentieth century.
  38. I’d rather climb Everest than go for a walk in the park.
  39. I think that, as you get older, you want to be freer rather than more bound.
  40. Honours seem to be the nature of British life. It’s horrible. Maybe I’m mad, but the older I get, the less I want to have honours loaded on me.
  41. I was well read and knew languages, but I didn’t want to become Ezra Pound. I wanted to write poetry that people like my parents might respond to.
  42. I hate everything about writing except doing it.
  43. The Greek tragic mask is one of my main metaphors for the role of the poet. The eyes of the tragic mask are always open to witness even the worst, and the mouth is always open to make poetry from it. Neither ever close.
  44. I’m not the sort of person who reads much about himself.
  45. The first thing you see in my hallway is a large 18th-century bust of Milton, who stares at me as I watch TV and reminds me of the grave and committed role of the poet. Although he was blind, Milton had one of the most unswerving gazes of all English poets.
  46. 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.
  47. I spent a lot of time on recce. It is a kind of creative chaos, but I like the sense of creative serendipity.
  48. A poem, once it’s written, is meant to be read with the inner voice of the person who reads it.

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