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New Light on Tony Harrison$
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Edith Hall

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780197266519

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197266519.001.0001

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Lost in the Original: Tony Harrison as a Classicist Poet

Lost in the Original: Tony Harrison as a Classicist Poet

(p.29) 4 Lost in the Original: Tony Harrison as a Classicist Poet
New Light on Tony Harrison

Josephine Balmer

British Academy

How does a classical education benefit a contemporary poet and how might it impede their creative development? Tony Harrison’s engagement with classical literature is wide-ranging and diverse. He has translated many classical texts, both Greek and Latin, from Sophocles through Palladas to Martial. In addition, his own poetry is steeped in classical reference and reception, always ironically underscoring the paradox of a working-class scholar’s alienation from both the classical academy and his own class and family. Yet, as Josephine Balmer argues, these ‘divided voices’ are precisely what inform and elevate Harrison’s exceptional art as a classical translator, a form which thrives on ambiguity and slippage. Furthermore, his unparalleled skill in reversioning and reinterpretating canonical texts has led, in turn, to the maturity and confidence of his later collections, such as Laureate’s Block (2000) and Under the Clock (2005), bridging the gaps of time, class and memory. If Harrison’s dramatic works, such as The Trackers of Oxyrynchus, reveal how easily literary culture might be destroyed, then his poetry celebrates how, among the loss, there will always be gain.

Keywords:   Tony Harrison, Translation, Palladas, Martial, classical versions, contemporary poetry, classical reception

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