David Harsent: from "Hauntings"



…in the company of children… (13th visitation)


It might be that slow erasure is their way, something like

diminution by decay, how memory fails, how pleasure

becomes a black spot in the back-brain. That they flow

or seem to; that they warp, or seem to; that they gain

themselves by soft disfigurement. A day of rain comes first

to mind: the rest falls into place, the full weight of it

leaving you hard pressed. Oh... Time's deceits

will break you in the end. They might have guessed.


Think back to rat-holes in the floor, to days spent weeping

in the company of children who outwept you. Anger like a sore

that had the run of your body. Anger and fear. Anger and fear

and despair. They guessed: and shape the pain as grace,

sometimes as gift. Kept secrets, the dead days of your parole.

Whisky-blind. Rats in the wallspace. Rats over the bed at night.



David Harsent is a British poet and librettist. He has published twelve volumes of poetry. Legion won the Forward Prize for best collection; Night was triple short-listed in the UK and won the Griffin International Poetry Prize. Fire Songs won the T.S. Eliot Prize. His 2018 recent collection, Salt, was described by John Burnside, choosing it for his Book of the Year in the New Statesman, as "a masterpiece". His latest collection, Loss, appeared in January 2020. He has collaborated with several composers, though most often with Harrison Birtwistle. The New York Times described Birtwistle and Harsent as "a team creating alchemy". Birtwistle/Harsent collaborations have been performed at venues worldwide, including the Royal Opera House, BBC Proms, the Aldeburgh Festival, the Holland Festival, The Concertgebouw, The London South Bank Centre, The Salzburg Festival and Carnegie Hall. Harsent holds several fellowships, including Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Fellow of the Hellenic Authors Society. Homeland, a pamphlet giving Harsent's versions of the eighteen "short, bitter" poems Yannis Ritsos wrote for Theodorakis to set during the Papadopoulos junta, has just been published by Rack Press.