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The Los Angeles Times Book Prize, 1987 : POETRY PRIZE : On Nov . 6, The Times will award its annual Book Prizes in five categories--biography, history, fiction, poetry and current interest--along with the Robert Kirsch Award for a body of work by a writer living in or writing on the West. This week we publish excerpts from the books nominated in poetry. : SELECTED POEMS by Tony Harrison (Random House)

November 01, 1987

Harrison, regarded by some as the most gifted poet in England today, collected his best poems to date in this volume. From "Durham":

Listen! Their choppers guillotine

all the enemies there've ever been

of Church and State, including me

for taking this small liberty.

Liberal, lover, communist,

Czechoslovakia, Cuba, grist,

grist for the power-driven mill

weltering in overkill.

And England? Quiet Durham? Threat

smokes off our lives like steam off wet

subsidences when summer rain

drenches the workings. You complain

that the machinery of sudden death,

Fascism, the hot bad breath

of Powers down small countries' necks

shouldn't interfere with sex.

They are sex, love, we must include

all these in love's beatitude.

Bad weather and the public mess

drive us to private tenderness,

though I wonder if together we,

alone two hours, can ever be

love's anti-bodies in the sick,

sick body politic.

At best we're medieval masons, skilled

but anonymous within our guild.

at worst defendants hooded in a car

charged with something sinister.

On the status quo's huge edifice

we're just excrescences that kiss,

cathedral gargoyles that obtrude

their acts of 'moral turpitude'.

But turpitude still keeps me warm

in foul weather as I head for home . . .

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