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David Harsent has published nine collections of poetry. The most recent, Legion, won the Forward Prize for best collection in 2005 and was shortlisted for both the Whitbread Award and the T. S. Eliot Prize. His Selected Poems (2007) was shortlisted for the 2008 Griffin Poetry Prize.

Night

Faber & Faber
2012 Winner
United Kingdom
Shortlisted in:

Judges’ Citation

The four decades’ worth of work spanned by David Harsent’s Selected Poems reveal a writer of enormous accomplishment in whom a constant, restless investigation of new forms, new subjects, new ways of putting together a poem or sequence of poems, is underpinned by a remarkably consistent and powerful poetic sensibility.

The four decades’ worth of work spanned by David Harsent’s Selected Poems reveal a writer of enormous accomplishment in whom a constant, restless investigation of new forms, new subjects, new ways of putting together a poem or sequence of poems, is underpinned by a remarkably consistent and powerful poetic sensibility. You know, instantly, when you are in a David Harsent poem: the vivid landscapes where the weather shifts as rapidly between inner and outer as it does between bright and menacing; the haunting psychological situations that give you a novel’s worth of drama in a few lines; the dense imagery continually opening up the narratives to new levels of suggestion and implication; the controlled riot of language; the intense, fluid musicality. Like the elusive figure of the hare that slips in and out of these poems – a motif borrowed in part from Egyptian writing where it formed the hieroglyph for the auxiliary verb ‘to be’ – the ultimate quarry of these poems, whether pursued through marriage or war or some more indefinite terrain, is nothing less than existence itself: what it feels like to be alive, human, and of this world. At a time when so many poets are retreating into the sphere of pure language, this unabashed engagement with reality is extraordinarily invigorating.

Judges’ Citation

David Harsent conducts an examination of the human psyche that is unique in both the unflinchingness of its gaze, and the fabular metaphors it uses to explore dream, terror and hidden impulse.

David Harsent conducts an examination of the human psyche that is unique in both the unflinchingness of its gaze, and the fabular metaphors it uses to explore dream, terror and hidden impulse. Truly significant poets write like no-one else, and Harsent is both sui generis and unsurpassed. In Night an extraordinary imaginary is evoked, explored and even wrought by technique that shows its hand only gradually, as the patterning of rhythmic urges and sound-chimes reveal how extraordinarily through-composed the book is. This is at the same time poetry of supreme urgency, haunted by existential and contemporary necessities in which the homeless man in the underpass, the wild Goddess of back gardens, are trickster archetypes – and are our neighbours, too. A collection of tremendous rhythmic and formal variety, one which ranges from a set of colourist Abstracts to a Ballad, is dominated, but never overshadowed, by its last quarter. Extraordinarily-sustained, with more than four hundred lines composed in septets lightly patterned with slant, blanket stitch and internal rhymes, Elsewhere is quite simply a canonical poem. It is also a quest narrative that, like all Harsent’s work, seems to pass right through its own genre, and return us to its origins in psychodrama and rite.