W. H. Auden, in his essay, The Poet and the City, (the Dyer’s Hand, 1962), starts with a quote by H. D. Thoreau: “There is little or nothing to be remembered written on the subject of getting an honest living…….One would never think, from looking at literature, that this question had ever disturbed a solitary individual’s musings.”
Auden covers much in this essay, but it’s his concept of the modern hero which is relevant here: “the man or woman in any walk of life who, despite all the impersonal pressures of modern society, manages to acquire and preserve a face of his own.”
In Geoff Hattersley’s latest collection, Harmonica, we have Auden’s hero; in fact, a succession of them. These are heroes battling against the complexity, confusion, drudgery and relentlessness of making ends meet.
This collection is appealing on many levels: for its simple language, the way he maps the struggle against these ‘impersonal pressures’, the optimism you unearth as you read more deeply, and the love of people.
New York meets New Yorkshire in Geoff Hattersley’s slyly funny poems. Their apparent simplicity belies a shrewd intelligence as much in tune with larger events as with the daily happenings which seem to form their subject. His poetic allegiances are mainly with contemporary American writers, but his territory is the human condition as seen from Yorkshire, as well as – in this new collection – the frontier society of a kibbutz in Israel. He is a poet of people, despairing but cheeky into the bargain, melancholic with a comic edge.