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V. (poem)

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Originally published  1 January 1985
Author  Tony Harrison
V. (poem) t2gstaticcomimagesqtbnANd9GcTZ1KfW5G2Mli5RV3
Works by Tony Harrison  Selected poems, Kumquat for John Keats, A cold coming, Collected Film Poetry, Laureate's Block and Other Occ

'v.' is a poem by Tony Harrison written in 1985. The poem aroused much controversy when broadcast in film version on Channel 4 due to its extensive use of profanity, both quoting graffiti and used directly.


Premise and setting

'v.' describes the author's visit to his parents' grave in a Leeds cemetery "now littered with beer cans and vandalised by obscene graffiti". The cemetery in question is Holbeck cemetery in the Beeston area of Leeds which overlooks the Elland Road football ground, close to where Harrison grew up.

The poem gives description of the graffiti on the grave, and pays particular notice to the use of the word united, exploring its ambiguous meaning, either as the name of a football club or a feeling of unity. When referring to Leeds United, the initials 'LUFC' are commonly used.

'v.' first appeared in the London Review of Books in 1985 and was first published in book form in November 1985 by Bloodaxe Books in the first edition of v.(hardback and paperback). The second edition of v., published by Bloodaxe in 1989, includes press articles relating to the media furore around the 1987 Channel Four film and commentary by Bloodaxe editor Neil Astley and the film's director Richard Eyre. 'v.' was reprinted in the second edition of Tony Harrison's Selected Poems (1987) and included in later editions of that book and then in his Collected Poems (2007).

Political references

The poem was written during the 1984-1985 miners strike and makes reference to this as well as to National Union of Mineworkers leader, Arthur Scargill. The poem also makes reference to what the author calls 'all the versus' (hence the poem's title) in life and includes 'communism v. fascism' and 'Left v. Right'.

Broadcast and controversy

A filmed version of v. was broadcast by Channel 4 in October 1987. Prior to the broadcast, both tabloid and broadsheet press openly criticised the move. An early day motion entitled "Television Obscenity" was put to the house on 27 October 1987 by a small group of Conservative MPs. The motion was only opposed by one MP, Norman Buchan (Labour) who suggested that MPs had either failed to read or failed to understand 'v.'

Despite continued protests from conservative factions of the press and parliament, the broadcast went ahead. Gerald Howarth said that Harrison was "Probably another bolshie poet wishing to impose his frustrations on the rest of us". When told of this, Harrison retorted that Howarth was "Probably another idiot MP wishing to impose his intellectual limitations on the rest of us".

The BBC broadcast the poem in full on 18 February 2013 at 23:30 on BBC Radio 4


V. (poem) Wikipedia

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