Journal of Cambridge Studies
The Conflicting Voices in Tony Harrison’s Poetry
Xiaodong LIANG ∗
Henan Normal University
Abstract: Tony Harrison is one of the representatives of the contemporary public poets whose poetry seems to be a language arena in which different narrative voices from different social milieus are imposed upon each other; whose different utterances ideologically orientated collide with each other at every nuance of the semantic level, and whose poetry features as double-voiced discourse. Due to this conspicuous feature, this thesis focuses its attention on the opposite voices in Harrison’s poetry, namely the voices of “Them” and “[uz]”, of the silent and the eloquent, and of his own forked tongue in order to work out the ideological meanings embedded in each discourse, to trace his split self in the conflicts between his education and his origin.
Key Words: Tony Harrison’s poetry, conflicting voices, dialogic discourses, split self
Liang Xiaodong is Professor of English Language and Literature at Faculty of International Studies of Henan Normal University. She was a visiting scholar of English Faculty, Cambridge University in 2001. She is particularly interested in Contemporary British and American poetry and fiction and has published many articles on them. Recently, she is working on the Contemporary British poetry, and Tony Harrison Studies is one of the projects. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Journal of Cambridge Studies
Introduction In talking about the major concerns of the contemporary British poetry, Neil Roberts has noticed that “class has continued to be a ground of contention in contemporary English poetry, and the most significant protagonist has been Tony Harrison.1 Indeed, Harrison is one of the representatives of public poets and “a tough-minded class warrior”, 2 fighting against discourse hegemony and oppression through his verbal weapons. His poems seem to be a language arena in which different voices speaking from different social milieus are imposed upon each other; in which different utterances ideologically orientated collide with each other at every nuance of the semantic level. Hence his poems are dialogic with several pairs of conflicting voices, which can be regarded as skaz defined by Bakhtin, the double-voiced discourse. Due to these conspicuous features, this thesis focuses its attention on his different voices, namely, the voices of “Them” and “[uz]”, the voices of the silent and the eloquent, and the voices of a forked tongue of his own in order to work out the ideological implications hidden in each discourse, and to trace his split self in the conflicts between his education and his origin. Them and [uz] A close reading finds that Harrison’s poems are embedded with skaz, one kind of "double-voiced utterance" in which two distinct voices - the author's speech and another's speech - are oriented toward one another within the same level of conceptual authority3.This double-voiced utterance has first been brought to the fore in his “School of Eloquence”, in which a working-class boy retraces his school days at the Grammar School in Leeds, recalling his own accent being strictly corrected and ruthlessly mocked by his teacher. He cannot pronounce the word “us” in RP, but clutching to his mother tongue as [uz]. Therefore, in the poem “Them and [uz]” arises two conflicting voices, the authoritative “Them” and the dominated but resisting “[uz]”. “Their” authoritative voice sounds anxious, responsible and scornful for the teacher shoulderes the responsibilities to cultivate the boy into civilized eloquent elite, and to remove his “barbarian” accent. Thus in the poem, we can hear the criticizing voice of the teacher first: 4 words only of mi ’art aches and… ‘Mine’s broken, you barbarian, T.W!’ He was nicely spoken. ‘Can’t have our glorious heritage done to death!’ I played the drunken Porter in...