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