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EN / nl

Harrison, Tony

b. 1937, Leeds, England; lives and works in Newcastle upon Tyne, England

V. Poem, 1984 TV film directed by Richard Eyre for Channel 4, U.K., 1987. 40 min. 

Few pieces of poetry can claim to have provoked a social impact comparable to the 448 lines Tony Harrison composed upon finding his parents’ tombstone desecrated by coarse football hooligan graffiti.

Their resting place, Beeston Cemetery in Leeds, sinks slowly, having been built atop worked-out coal seams. The poem investigates the incarnations of language as power in post-industrial society as condensed by the letter “V,” with its decay from the call of “Victory” during WWII to the 1980s when “V” signified “all the versuses of life” and “the unending violence of US and THEM,/ personified in 1984/ by Coal Board MacGregor and the NUM” (National Union of Miners) (Harrison 1989:11).
The poem climaxes with a verbal duel between the poet and his double, an aggravated skinhead who reminds Harrison that “poet [...] ‘s a crude four-letter word” no less than “fuck” and “cunt” (ibid 19) and intimates that his comforts are the result of the poor being dumped by the social system like coal “chucked on t-fucking fire” (Madden 2000:142).

The poem provoked an extraordinary national controversy when theatre director Richard Eyre turned it into a film for broadcast on television. Conservative attempts to censor the program due to its obscene language and left-wing sentiment proved counterproductive. When it aired, Harrison’s reading reached an audience of several million, arguably making it the most publicised poetry event in recent memory (ibid 147). CM