David Harsent: from "Hauntings"



…it runs under the skin… (8th visitation)

Now they are winged, or seem so. It lasts a minute or two.

They come in at a glide. That ragged blue is almost shape

before it fades. In the guise of angels, so you hide your face.

The image holds in the way something looked at long will hold.

It comes at you cold and runs under the skin: you might be ill

or this is the first wild lick of madness: go back: go back to when

birds were only birds if you spoke their names out loud,

then animals, then trees, until you wept: Just words... just words...

Crow. Hare. Rowan. Kestrel. Blackthorn. Fox. You drank

all day and stayed awake: a markless blank between

day and night, sleepless dreams, remorse, fear of the dark...

A woman there was to keep you from yourself: she said

Close your books, turn that picture to the wall, a shadow

will lift from you. Now they separate, made false by fracture.



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.