The Harrison effect on a young poet

When I arrived on Tyneside in the early 1970s, I attended Tony Harrison’s poetry workshops (Harrison was then Northern Arts Literary Fellow).

It was one of those epiphany experiences which meant I never saw poetry – either as a writer or reader – the same again.

Those workshops helped nudged me towards setting up IRON Press in 1973. Fast forward 42 years and here’s Tony Harrison reading at our festival – a rare Tyneside appearance for the writer.

Four decades have not diluted Harrison’s creative potency. His stage plays are performed world-wide, (including by our own RSC and National Theatre) he’s published many acclaimed collections , his unique poetry films are shown on BBC TV, his Gulf War poems (plus others) published on the front page of The Guardian, a whole raft of literary awards and – this should convince you if nothing else does – the Daily Mail demanded his controversial poem V, (motivated by the desecration of his parents’ grave in Leeds and filmed by the BBC) be banned. It went on to win awards.

Despite being a literary editor, much modern poetry leaves me cold. I understand the public’s mistrust.

Harrison is different. Both personal and political, the poetry draws on his working class childhood, Greek mythology, popular culture; wry, knowing, serious, funny and brave enough to re-invent poetic rhyme.

I’m so thrilled Tony Harrison’s reading at The Community Centre on June 6. Don’t miss him.

Supporting him is Liz Maynard, a cello player and mother of Ema Lea, the inspiration behind the much-loved Whitley Bay Film Festival (see what great festivals the coast offers you).

Liz played at a summer party in my back yard some years ago and her performance knocked everyone out.

I’ve been wanting her back ever since and here she is. A great combination.

Festival brochures now available. See