Tony Harrison’s 'torrent of filth' poem on Radio 4
The profanities and racial epithets in Tony Harrison’s poem, v., were described as a torrent of filth by tabloids when it was broadcast on Channel 4 in 1987. Now you can hear it again on Radio 4 in a newly recorded reading by the poet. Blake Morrison’s introduction will reflect on the poem, its contemporary resonance and the furore it caused, which had Tory MPs, the Daily Mail and Mary Whitehouse foaming at the mouth. The real obscenity, according to Independent journalist Suzie Feay in an article last October, was the occasion that sparked the poem: a visit to the Leeds cemetery where Harrison found his parents' grave sprayed with the words "fuck" and "cunt", the work of football hooligans.
The poet had already courted controversy when he famously ruled himself out of the poet laureate shortlist in 1999, by publishing an anti-royal poem called Laureate’s Block, in the Guardian, including this extract:
"free to write what I think should be written
free to scatter scorn on Number 10,
free to blast and bollock Blairite Britain,
[and alliterate outrageously like then!]"
He sounds like Write Out Loud’s idea of a poet laureate.
Born in Leeds in 1937, Tony Harrison has been described by Blake Morrison as "one of the finest poets in the English language", though he is perhaps better known as an award-winning playwright and translator, his work appearing often at the National Theatre among many others.
The poet's new recording of v. will be broadcast on 18 February at 11pm, prefaced by warnings and "lots of signposting", according to the BBC. It is one of a range of poetry events in 2013 as part of Radio 4's Year of Culture. We shall offer a review of the broadcast too, so watch these pages so you can add your own twopennorth.
With thanks to Dinah Wood of Faber and Faber, and Tony's agent, Gordon Dickerson.
photo © Sandra Lousada