David Harsent
(United Kingdom, 1942)   
David Harsent

David Harsent won the 2005 Forward Prize for Legion, which was also shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize and the TS Eliot Award; he has also been the recipient of the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Award, an Eric Gregory Award, two Arts Council bursaries and a Society of Authors Fellowship.

David Harsent’s work is both varied, and like that of all important writers, instantly recognisable. He is also conspicuous among British poets through his rich version of poetic practice. Not only a lyric poet of great distinction, he is also a librettist: most notably for Sir Harrison Birtwistle, with whom he has written Gawain (1991), The Woman and The Hare, The Ring Dance of the Nazarene and The Minotaur, which premiered in London’s Royal Opera House on 15th April 2008. His collaborations with Birtwistle and other composers have also been performed at Carnegie Hall, the South Bank Centre, the Proms, the Megaron (Athens), Wiener Staatsoper, and on BBC2 and Channel 4 television.

Harsent has also published versions of the work of Bosnian poet, Goran Simic, notably Sprinting from the Graveyard (1997), poems written during the siege of Sarajevo. He was co-editor, with Mario Susko, of Savremena Britanska Poezija (1988). He has published a novel, From An Inland Sea (1985), and has another, The Wormhole, in preparation. He writes crime fiction under a pseudonym and has written a large number of screenplays and television dramas.

But it is as a poet that David Harsent, who is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was appointed Distinguished Writing Fellow at Sheffield Hallam University in 2005, is best understood. He has published nine collections since A Violent Country appeared in 1969, including A Bird's Idea of Flight (1998), and Marriage (2002), both short - listed for the Forward Poetry Prize and the T. S. Eliot Prize. Legion (2005), won the 2005 Forward Poetry Prize (Best Poetry Collection of the Year) and was short - listed for the 2005 T. S. Eliot Prize and the 2005 Whitbread Poetry Award. Other key works in the Harsent canon are Mr Punch (1984) and News from the Front (1993). Selected Poems, 1969-2005, was published in 2007.

All these collections are marked by a clarity that takes no hostages and is unmatched in contemporary British verse (Don Paterson’s is a different project). Harsent’s poetry has no truck with obfuscation or hesitation. Neither hasty nor deliberate, it rings consistently true to itself, wasting no words but eschewing gimmickry and fashion in a manner which is both absolutist and profound. Harsent works at the level of symbol and archetype to get beyond contemporary debates about poetics, and local - historical concerns – while treating both poetics and the connected human world of social and political relations with the utmost seriousness. This seriousness and clarity means that Harsent, although his material often displays traces of the British folk-lore and ballad traditions which influence him, can be read as an international poet. Like Ted Hughes, his work, through its very independence, sits comfortably in a much wider context than the merely national.

David Harsent’s next collection, from which these poems are taken, will be published by Faber. ‘The Hut in Question’, ‘Necrophilia’, ‘Penelope’ and ‘Broken Glass’ first appeared in Poetry Review.

© Fiona Sampson


A Violent Country,
Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1969
Truce, Limited edition: Sycamore Press, Guildford, 1973
After Dark, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1973
Mister Punch, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1977
Dreams of the Dead, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1984
Selected Poems, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1989
Storybook Hero, Limited edition: Sycamore Press, Guildford, 1992
News from the Front, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1993
A Bird's Idea of Flight, Faber & Faber, London, 1998
Marriage, Faber & Faber, London, 1998
Legion, Faber & Faber, London, 2002
Selected Poems 1969-2005, Faber & Faber, London, 2007


Official homepage of David Harsent

Harsent on Poetry Archive
Listen to a special recording of David Harsent


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