Harsent, David 1942-
HARSENT, David 1942-
PERSONAL: Born December 9, 1942, in Bovey Tracey, Devonshire, England; married second wife, Julia Watson (an actress), 1989; children: (first marriage) Ysanne, Simon, Barnaby; (second marriage) one daughter. Education: Attended Sir Henry Floyd School, Aylesbury, England. Hobbies and other interests: "I like to ride horses and to shoot (though not simultaneously)."
ADDRESSES: Home—London, England. Office— Andre Deutsch, 105 Great Russell St., London WC1B 3LJ, England.
CAREER: Poet and novelist. Bookseller in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England; worked for Eyre Methuen (publisher); Arrow Publishing, London, England, editorial director, 1977-79; Andre Deutsch (publisher), London, editor-in-chief and director, 1979-91.
AWARDS, HONORS: Gregory Award, 1967, for A Violent Country; first prize from Cheltenham Festival of Literature, 1968, for poem "Legendry"; poetry bursary from Arts Council of Great Britain, 1970; Geoffrey Faber Memorial Award, 1978, for Dreams of the Dead.
Ashridge, Sycamore Press (Oxford, England), 1970.
Truce, Sycamore Press (Oxford, England), 1973.
Dreams of the Dead, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1977.
Mister Punch, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1984.
Selected Poems, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1989.
Gawain (a libretto), set to music by Harrison Birtwistle, Universal (London, England), 1991.
News from the Front, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1993.
(Translator) Goran Simic, Sprinting from the Graveyard, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1997.
A Bird's Idea of Flight, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1998.
(Editor) Another Round at the Pillars: Essays, Poems and Reflections on Ian Hamilton, Cargo Press (Cornwall, England), 1999.
Marriage, Faber & Faber (London, England), 2002.
"Tonight's Lover" was published in The Review: A Magazine of Poetry and Criticism, 1968.
Fiction critic for Times Literary Supplement, 1965-73. Poetry critic for Spectator, 1970-73. Contributor of reviews and critical essays to periodicals, including New Statesman, Agenda, and New Review.
under pseudonym jack curtis; thrillers
Crow's Parliament, E. P. Dutton (New York, NY), 1987.
Glory, E. P. Dutton (New York, NY), 1988.
Point of Impact, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1991.
Sons of the Morning, Corgi Books (New York, NY), 1992.
Conjure Me, Corgi Books (New York, NY), 1994.
Mirrors Kill, Crown (New York, NY), 1995.
The Confessor, Orion (London, England), 1998.
SIDELIGHTS: David Harsent, the son of a bricklayer, was raised primarily by his maternal grandmother, whose husband—John (Jack) Curtis—died young and from whom Harsent took his pseudonym. During an interview with Tangled Web, Harsent commented: "I started writing commercially in 1982 but prior to that I had a reputation as a poet (and still have I hope)." He said he began writing thrillers because "all poets need day jobs," and his job left him no time to write. So he gave up his lucrative and "very flashy" lifestyle and, having read many thrillers as editorial director at Arrow Publishing and enjoying thrillers for recreational reading, embarked on his first thriller, Crow's Parliament. By the time he completed the book, he was almost broke. And the publishing process did not go smoothly. "I remember … thinking 'God, I'm going to have to look for another job,'" he commented during the interview. Soon thereafter, however, the book and its film rights sold. In fact, his first five novels were translated into fourteen languages.
Although writing in two very different genres, Harsent writes in either one or the other until that particular work is complete. And he feels one genre has no more literary value than the other: "One is one thing and one is another, you couldn't ask poetry to compete with the novel…. They're not comparable. It's a different way of reading. There are good and bad thrillers, and there are good and bad poets—that's the way one judges really, not across the genre," he commented during the interview.
While Harsent's writing genres differ, the general theme underlying them both is similar—violent, dark, brooding, and bleak, exploring the nature of evil and how it manifests in humanity. For example, Stephen Knight made a general comment about Harsent's verse in the Times Literary Supplement: "In A Bird's Idea of Flight, [Harsent's] unforgiving voice—maintained through the various phases of his poetic career—essays 'the sound / of unnegotiable despair,'" while in a review of the novel Mirrors Kill for Publishers Weekly, a contributor commented that "Curtis … handles his bleak, violent material with aplomb, shaping it into a splendid popular entertainment."
"I don't set out to write dark books about people with dents in their lives," Harsent explained during the Tangled Web interview, "so it must just be instinct that takes me in that direction. Or a curiosity about such people, or an interest in such dents, perhaps."
Though Harsent's poetry often describes a world of madness, violence, and death, it also allows for softer reflections and the hope of love. Whether Harsent's verse is evoking violence or love, critics have remarked on the strength of the poet's precise imagery. Reviewing Marriage—which was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize in 2002—for the Times Literary Supplement, Chris Greenhalgh commented: "It is interesting to trace the changes in Harsent's career from an early interest in minimalism to the profusion of his current works. The poems here enjoy a voluptuous strain."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Guardian, December 7, 2002, review of Marriage.
November 28, 1994, review of Mirrors Kill, p. 43.
Spectator, April 24, 1998, Michael Glover, review of A Bird's Idea of Flight, p. 56; May 1, 1999, P. J. Kavanagh, review of Another Round at the Pillars: Essays, Poems and Reflections on Ian Hamilton, p. 151.
Times Literary Supplement, (London, England), June 12, 1998, Stephen Knight, review of A Bird's Idea of Flight, p. 25; June 4, 1999, Nicholas Murray, review of Another Round at the Pillars, p. 25; January 3, 2003, Chris Greenhalgh, review of Marriage, p. 24.
Heads Off, http://www.newstatesman.co.uk/ (April 26, 1999), review of Another Round at the Pillars.
Poetry Book Society, http://www.poetrybooks.co.uk/ (spring, 2002), review of Marriage.
Poetry Society, http://www.poetrysociety.org.uk/ (November 1,2003), review of Marriage.
Tangled Web UK, http://www.twbooks.co.uk/ (November 1, 2003), "Crash: Damaged People and Wrecked Lives: An Interview with Jack Curtis."*