2 minute read

Tony Harrison Biography

(1937– ), Lysistrata, Aikin Mata, Stand, The Loiners, The School of Eloquence, Continuous, Selected Poems, Poems

British poet, translator, and dramatist, born in Leeds, educated at the University of Leeds, where he studied classics and did postgraduate work in linguistics. From 1962 to 1966 he taught at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria, where he collaborated with James Simmons on a version of Aristophanes' Lysistrata entitled Aikin Mata (1966), the first of his many adaptations of classical works. He subsequently lectured at Charles University in Prague and became an associate editor of Stand magazine in 1968. Among numerous visiting appointments he was resident dramatist at the National Theatre in 19778. His first substantial collection, The Loiners (1970), consistently displayed Harrison's virtuosity in adapting conventional forms to an energetically colloquial tone; treatments of his Leeds background and experiences of post-colonial Africa combined erotic candour, sardonic humour, and underlying political seriousness in a manner characteristic of much of his subsequent work. The distancing from his working-class origins brought about by education and the linguistic aspects of social conditioning receive concentrated attention in the Meredithian sonnets forming the title sequence of The School of Eloquence (1978); the work, whose main themes are central to Harrison's concerns as a poet, encompasses historical and socio-cultural material, autobiography, and movingly elegiac tributes to his parents and other relations. Continuous (1981) forms an extension of the sequence, to which additions are also made in the revised edition of his Selected Poems (1987). Harrison's other works as a poet include his versions of Palladus in Poems (1975); A Kumquat for John Keats (1981); ‘v.’ (1985), which provoked controversy when presented on television through its frequent use of language many considered obscene; A Cold Coming (1991), his poetic response to the Gulf War; The Gaze of the Gorgon (1992), poems reflecting modern European history; and The Shadow of Hiroshima (1995). As a writer for the theatre his works include an adaptation of Molière's The Misanthrope (1973); Phaedra Britannica (1975), a version of Racine's Phedre; his adaptation of The Oresteia (1981) of Aeschylus for the National Theatre; and The Common Chorus: A Version of Aristophanes' Lysistrata (1992). His verse-dramas achieve theatrical effectiveness through his liberating technical fluency across a wide range of idioms of speech and character; Dramatic Verse, 1973–1985 appeared in 1985, and The Trackers of Oxyrhyncus was performed and published in 1990.

Additional topics

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Bernard Gutteridge Biography to Hartshill Warwickshire