Martin Har­ri­son was a poet who showed us the world in all its tragedy and love­li­ness, writes

The Weekend Australian - Review - - BOOKS -

flood of sen­sa­tions, when the ‘‘mind’s sky-white with mem­o­ries, swelling the fruit of ex­pe­ri­ence, swarm­ing at death, yet hold­ing all feel­ings to­gether’’. This is the plen­i­tude of Keats, just as the com­ing upon the hive is as alive as the mo­ment when Wordsworth takes in the field of daf­fodils. So of­ten, in fact, Har­ri­son’s in­tel­lec­tual med­i­ta­tions are in the mode of Wordsworth’s Pre­lude, with its dy­namic re­vi­sions.

The bee poem goes on: … it’s summed up later (gen­er­a­tions later after the earth has soaked up spilt blood and honey

streams) by the philoso­pher who says: ‘‘Things are not things, but groups, sets, swarms, flux- play­ing their mu­sic of ant and bird. The swarm is light. Its en­ergy, fruit of the desert’s edge


Th­ese are the es­sen­tial lay­ers in Har­ri­son’s royal flush. Of the thing it­self — right in our face, into our hands. Of the de­scrip­tion that ren­ders the thing. Then the ab­stract ex­trap­o­la­tion of all that has gone be­fore — what ‘‘the philoso­pher’’ might want to say.

This is the first thing to be said about Har­ri­son’s work: he was a philoso­pher poet. More par­tic­u­larly, he was a poet-phe­nome­nol­o­gist. He never men­tions the great French the­o­rist Mer­leau Ponty, any more than he does Martin Hei­deg­ger, but they are there, well in­stalled in the highly fur­nished mind that was gov­ern­ing the poem in tan­dem with his de­light in what we re­ceived of the world in all its ‘‘tragedy and love­li­ness’’. And that is why his po­ems go on so in­sis­tently, too much so, it could be ar­gued, as if the poem was an es­say, which it was, in its own way. He ex­celled in the long-lined poem that opened like a flood plain.

That was a re­ally good poem, I said to him after one of his inim­itable read­ings (lo­qua­cious, charm­ing, a touch melo­dra­matic and Cam­bridge toned), but it’s mucked up by one word. And what word is that? Pres­ence, I said, you should cut out pres­ence. It’s heavy-duty the­ory.

Oh, he laughed, but that’s the word that will last.

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