Lee Harwood (1939-2015)

Poet and climber, Lee Harwood is a pivotal figure in what’s still termed the British Poetry Revival. He published widely since 1963, gaining awards and readers here and in America. His name evokes pioneering publishers of the last half-century. His translations of poet Tristan Tzara were published in diverse editions. Harwood enjoyed a wide acquaintance among the poets of California, New York and England. His poetry was hailed by writers as diverse as Peter Ackroyd, Anne Stevenson, Edward Dorn and Paul Auster.

Lee Harwood was born months before World War II in Leicester. An only child to parents Wilfred and Grace, he lived in Chertsey. He survived a German air raid, his bedroom window blown in across his bed one night as he slept. His grandmother Pansy helped raise him from the next street while his young maths teacher father served in the war and on to 1947 in Africa. She and Grace’s father inspired in Lee a passion for stories.

Delicate, gentle, candid and attentive – Lee called his poetry stories. Iain Sinclair described him as ‚full-lipped, fine-featured : clear (blue) eyes set on a horizon we can’t bring into focus. Harwood’s work, from whatever era, is youthful and optimistic: open.‘

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His eye for Surrealism led him, aged 24, to seek the Dada poet Tristan Tzara in Paris in 1963. He gained Tzara’s blessing for his translations. The American poet John Ashbery had already enjoyed ten years in Paris before he met Harwood in 1965. Their relationship triggered a lifelong bond. Elements of a very changed life, of European and American friendships flowered in The Man With The Blue Eyes.

Lee Harwood’s title illegible was published in London by sound poet Bob Cobbing’s Writers Forum in 1965. Then New York poets Lewis Warsh and Anne Waldman at Angel Hair issued The Man With The Blue Eyes. This carried a preface by John Ashbery: ‘Lee Harwood’s poetry lies open to the reader, like a meadow. It moves slowly toward an unknown goal, like a river. It is carelessly wise, that is, wise without knowing or caring what wisdom is.’ 

/ Tom Raworth

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