The Rimbaud of Leeds: The Political Character of Tony Harrison’s Poetry

by Christine Regan


This book examines the political meanings of Tony Harrison’s imaginative works and offers a reassessment of the poet’s political character. While Harrison’s class political analysis has been central to much of the discussion of his poetry, his concern with colonialism still generates relatively little commentary. The nature of his republicanism and its importance for his poetry has been neglected, while his humanism tends to be seen as at odds with his politics. This study discusses Harrison’s concern with internal colonialism in the United Kingdom and internationalist anti-colonial poetic. It witnesses the radical political inclusiveness of his humanism and his giving the dispossessed a voice in his high cultural poetry. Particular attention is accorded to his ambiguous identification with John Milton as a great republican poet, his location of Milton and himself in a radical republican literary lineage, and his wider excavation of that lineage. It also illuminates Harrison’s unnoticed elective affinity with Arthur Rimbaud as a regional poet with the wrong accent, as ‘a hoodlum poet’ who fell silent and became an explorer and fortune-seeker in Africa, as a white ‘négre’, and as the great outsider now fêted as a high cultural poet. Harrison’s political convictions and loyalties will be shown to be consistent in the different historical, literary, and social contexts that the poems take as their subjects, or that are opened up by their allusive fields. The book will newly establish that the creative dialectical interplay between the class, anti-colonial, and radical republican and humanist aspects of the poetry, and his literary elective affinities, are essential for understanding the aesthetics and the politics of the Rimbaud of Leeds.


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