BOOKS FICTION: POETRY IN BRIEF
Sunday 17 September 1995
Fond of high art and low jinks, Greek tragedy and Blackpool pantomime, inclusive politics and exclusive craftsmanship, Harrison is the unofficial laureate of radical England, of the insulted and the injured, forever turning up the Houyhnhnm in the alleged Yahoo, and vice versa. This volume brings together the latest of his film/poems, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima, with "A Maybe Day in Kazakstan", "The Gaze of the Gorgon", "The Blasphemer's Banquet" (Rushdie and the fatwa), and "Loving Memory", which looks at death and our ways of dealing with it. "Strange how poetry most people think a bore,/poetry that people of our period despise/or if they don't despise it just ignore,/seems to surface fast when someone dies".
All these stories were kicked off by fascinating particulars (pigeons standing in for peace doves, a marble statue of Heine in Corfu, Naples' amazing funerary customs) before getting themselves hitched up to a Gray's Elegy-like disquisition on universals. "If art can't cope/it's just another form of dope". As poetry it's not in the same league as his best sonnets. As an intelligent use of the TV soapbox and shadow theatre, however, it's vastly welcome. William Scammell
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