by Simon Collings
I’ve just completed a course with the poet Giles Goodland reading contemporary poets. One of the discoveries for me was Lee Harwood. I remember reading Harwood in the Children of Albion anthology when I was in my twenties – and liking his poems. But I remained largely unaware of his work until quite recently – mainly I suspect because he published with small presses.
Harwood’s Collected Poems, published in 2004 by Shearsman, brings together the work of 40 years and runs to 524 pages. He’s since published another slender volume with Enitharmon Press called The Orchid Boat (2014).
Harwood was a seminal figure in the poetic counter-culture of sixties and seventies Britain. He met the US poet John Ashbery in Paris in 1965 and was his lover for a while. In Paris he absorbed many of the same French influences as Ashbery, and later in the US got to know members of the New York school. These radical influences placed Harwood well outside the mainstream of British poetry of the period. An acquaintance who remembers hearing Harwood read in Cambridge in the seventies described him as ‘extraordinary – a real breath of fresh air.’
Here are a few of his poems:
‘Central Park Zoo’ is a good example of the way Harwood combines disparate material within a poem, in a manner similar to Frank O’Hara.
‘Landscape‘ is one of many poems featuring a painting.
‘Departures‘ is from the latest collection.