This article is taken from Stand 215, 15(3) October - November 2017.

N.S. Thompson Tony Harrison, Leeds and Modernism

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty three
(Which was rather late for me) –
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.

So wrote Philip Larkin in ‘Annus Mirabilis’ (written in 1967, and published in High Windows, 1974). The first half of the sentence is naturally untrue in natural terms, as it was for Larkin himself, who had discovered sex relatively early on in his life, at least in an era when sex was considered ‘A sort of bargaining, / A wrangle for a ring’; but in literary terms it was absolutely true, as the reference to D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover and its trial for obscenity attests. With the lifting of that ‘ban’, when the defence won, sex became the topic for the printed page.

But while the topic of sex was a liberation (if only on the page) it was only part of what is crucial for any age and that is the ability to talk about itself. The liberation for me was discovering a poet who could talk about modernity and himself as a poet in the North in a way that was totally modern, convincing and refreshing. More than anything else, it was a poetry that spoke to its times.

And yet this went against all expectations and was based on contradictions. Here was a classically educated poet writing about working-class life, often seeing low culture in terms of high and a poet using rhyme and metre to express the ...
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