V by Tony Harrison
Ruth Kelsey’s choice number 6
I must confess all the kerfuffle this poem prompted in 1987 when it was broadcast on Channel 4 TV completely passed me by. I discovered V some 20-odd years later when a repeat of said broadcast took place while I was exploring poetry as a mature student. When the student is ready, so they say, the teacher will appear. It’s a long poem, but so rich in observation and social commentary about the city of Leeds and the nation itself as they were in the 80s, and of Tony Harrison’s relationship with both, as seen through his own eyes and those of his parents. The poem affected me so much I ended up visiting Holbeck Cemetery in the days following, which brought it to life even more.
It’s certainly not a poem to read when you need cheering up, and the language is not for the faint-hearted but there’s so much detail and so many strands that it seems to reveal a little more each time it’s read. I doubt anyone would ever tire of it.
You can relive the controversial Channel 4 broadcast here (in three parts):