The Poetry of Tony Harrison
Tony Harrison is almost certainly one of the most famous poets alive.
Born in Leeds in 1937 he grew up in a working-class family. Harrison
is a modern poet but chooses to use the traditional sonnet form as he
considers the rigid structure and strict rhythm and rhyming rules
which others find restricting, a challenge to him. He also sees it as
a controlled technique of expressing his feelings. Francesco Petrach
began using the sonnet at the beginning of Renaissance with his
unusual rhyming pattern and stanzas of an octave and a sestet.
Harrison's sonnets fit more into the structure of the later
Shakespearean sonnet, with the ABABCDCD rhyming scheme and rhyming
couplets. He has though subverted the classical form of the
Shakespearean sonnet and adapted it to suit his style of writing and
needs. He chooses to add an extra two lines in the form of a rhyming
couplet to summarise the rest of the poem and make a bold statement.
Traditionally sonnets have being written about love, romance and
landscapes by those such as Wordsworth, but Harrison prefers to focus
on more contemporary issues such as his strong opinions on our society
today, although manages to include conventional topics too but not in
the expected way. There are also other small changes that he has made
to benefit his style of writing. All these changes make him a very
unique writer, different to the colloquial, free verse most poets use.
Many would classify him as a modern sonnet writer.
Them & [Uz]
These two sonnets are very powerful and portray a very strong message
to the reader. They are full of conflict and anger, which Harrison
puts across well and recreates the anger in the tense atmosphere. Most
of Harrison's poems are based around his beliefs about society. Them &
[Uz] is a very good example which shows these beliefs. Just looking at
the title implies he is suggesting that there are two groups. 'Them',
the people who supposedly talk proper English and '[Uz]' the people
who do not pronounce words correctly but do so in the 'common' way.
The striking thing about this poem is that Harrison uses the 'common'
dialect based language, along with the expected dialect for writing a
sonnet. This is a shock for the reader because he is breaking the
traditional method used for years by Shakespeare, Owen, Brooke and
many more famous poets. This comparison of language can be seen in the
opening, very strong lines. '(X)(X), ay ay!'. They have very different
meanings, '(X)(X)', is a Greek word which is used at a moment of great
pain and 'ay ay' which is a more comical easy going word. The words
show conflict between each other but also between each group of people
who speak them. Harrison also refers to Demosthenes, which is quite a
difficult word to pronounce, he was one of...