It strikes me now as singularly and politically prescient that Harrison chose to express his determination to write poetry as a form of occupation: he declares he will “occupy” the “lousy leasehold” of an elite literary tradition.Harrison’s statement anticipates the contemporary Occupy movement, with its targeting of political and social inequality, exclusion and hierarchy. The occupation of spaces of power is an attempt to level the playing field, enacting change from the bottom up.
Harrison refuses to ‘squat’ in the space of poetry, a phrase that would acknowledge his unbelonging. He occupies; he makes the space his own. And what is more, having read the poetry of Tony Harrison, my 18-year-old self was no longer frightened of this supposedly difficult form with its metrical lines, suffused with metaphor and locked in rhyme. Instead, I was also determined to wrest back and occupy poetry.