Herald, 10/08/91 Harold Pinter. Collected Poems And Prose. Faber,
£5.99 (pp 118)
Harold Pinter's new and enlarged edition of his
Collected Poems And Prose adds nothing to his reputation as a
writer. The importance of the book is that it shows the creative
imagination of the mature artist emerging from the turmoil of
Adult writers, embarrassed by what they come to see as the artlessness
or naive ostentation of youth, often abandon or suppress their
apprentice work. The earliest pieces in Pinter's collection are
juvenilia written when he was in his late teens, and by preserving
this work Pinter shows how a distinctive voice and coherent vision
developed from his first inchoate attempts.
||"New Year In The Midlands' the opening
poem in the collection, echoes the pub scene in T. S. Eliot's The
Waste Land but despite this obvious influence Pinter's poem is an
inventive, highly intelligent piece of observation. And with hindsight
it could be said that "New Year In The Midlands" shows the techniques
of characterisation "The little black crab women". the woman "Who
pouts the bristle of a sprouting fag" and "Freda the whimping glassy
bawd" - that are developed in the plays of the 1950.
More typical or Pinter's early poetry and typical, even archetypal,
of gifted adolescence - is "I shall tear off my Terrible Cap" written
in 1951. The second line of the poem, "In a hostile pause in a no
man's time", expresses the young man1s sense of conflict and his
uncertainty about his identity. These are normal stages in the process
of growing up but they are expressed with abnormal vividness in
Similarly, the paradox of "Only the deaf can hear and the blind
understand / The miles I gabble" expresses the isolation and egotism
of the developing self and is as much a statement of defiance as
a plea for understanding. And the line, "All spirits shall haunt
me and all devils drink me", is a piece of romantic posturing that
invokes extremes of experience and at the same time professes mysterious
power, the demonic possession of the wild artist.
|Coherence is often a casualty in these
early conflicts of emotion, intellect and language. There is no
recognisable poetic voice since this requires a sense of one's own
identity as a writer. Voice also requires a command of and a respect
for language, but a feature of the early poems is their idiosyncratic
and accidental diction. There is no clear vision or viewpoint since
Pinter deals not with material reality but with a mental landscape
which is still in the process of being formed.
What saves the early poems from incoherence is the sheer intensity
of the underlying emotions - the aspiration of "I shall tear off
my Terrible Cap". the loneliness of "A Glass At Midnight", the fused
necromancy and sexuality of "Books Of Mirrors" - and the erratic
but sure emergence of a powerful and original imagination.
It is understandable that the mature imagination should turn from
poetry to plays. The early poems have a genuinely dramatic quality
as well as the psychological melodrama of adolescence, and Pinter
was a repertory actor until 1957, the year of The Birthday Party.
One effect of this change, or confirmation, of direction is to make
some of the later poems seem like exercises. "A View Of The Party"
for example. reads like a verse synopsis of the play: the poem is
dated 1958 and includes a couplet that could serve as a stage direction:
"They imposed upon the room / A -dislocation and gloom".
The exceptions are the love poems. "Daylight" is a fragment that
combines tenderness and sensuality. "Always where you are" celebrates
the unity of lovers through images of looking and touching; and
two poems from 1975, "Paris" and "I know the place", have the lucidity
of near perfect miniatures.
If we read the writer's life into his art, then the faltering love
and somber eloquence of"'The Doing So," (1977) may be a comment
on his first marriage, and the most powerful of the love poems.
"Ghost" (1983), can be read as a vision of reconciliation with the
ghost of his first wife, who died in 1982.
Like the poetry, the importance of the prose in this collection
- especially the short fictions "The Black and White", "Tea Party",
"The Coast" and "Lola" - lies less in what it achieves than in the
extent to which it charts the emergence of a creative imagination.
Collected Poems And Prose will be essential reading for the student
of Pinter's work.
|Poems and Prose:
1949- 77 pub Eyre and Methuen Tribune 24 October 1980
|Poems and Prose
1949-77 is an extended version of Harold Pinter's previous Poems,
published in 197 1. His poetry is very much the work of the playwright,
being concerned with visual effect and the relationship between
personae. The main interest lies in the manner in which dramatic
language has been used to poetic ends and some poems (such as The
Second Visit) are akin in concept to the work of the great verse
In the prose section there is the astonishing juvenile piece, Kullus
- more a dramatic prose poem (and formerly published in earlier
books as a poem) than a short story or essay. It alone would justify
the book, which is more than a sideline from Pinter's stage/film
and Prose pub Methuen
Jewish Chronicle 6th June 1986
The husbanding of resources. and the canny reworking
of his or her particular material may be a mark of the true artist.
Certainly this volume gives evidence of concerns and obsessions
being quarried deeper and from shifting angles and returned to
again and again. In not much more than a hundred pages, ten prose
pieces and thirty nine poems, Harold Pinter's genius for conveying
the voice and essence of another person whether imaginary (The
Coast) or real (the memorial piece for the actor-manager Anew
McMaster) is well demonstrated. The poem Ghost is especially
worthy of notice.
and Prose pub Faber and Faber Daily Telegraph 17th August 1991
Elizabeth Jennings's Poetry Guide
Fascinating because all this is the work of a
master dramatist. The best prose feels as if it should be part
of a play, but some short lyric poems. such as It is Here
and Ghosts, have an almost Larkinesque sadness. The note
of disturbance, however, is Pinter's alone.
and Prose pub Faber and Faber Robert Nye, The Times 05/09/91
|Country folk in Wales have a good way
of keeping up with their Joneses. To avoid confusion, and in the
interests of distinction, they will refer to a man as though his
trade or other distinguishing mark were part of his name. Thus:
Jones the Milk, Jones the Boils, Jones the Death.
The decent democracy of this habit might make good criticism if
applied to the 20th century literary scene. Don't we have a big
family of Joneses, writers who are much of a muchness save for some
predictable identifying preoccupation? And above that level, wouldn't
there be mindfulness of a common humanity in looking coolly at those
supposed to be giants and noting Lawrence the Sex, Dylan the Gab,
Eliot the Church, Seamus the Famous? Somewhere along the line we'd
come to Harold Pinter. His designation would be obvious. Harold
Pinter must be sick of the word menace, but it is his own
fault. From his first play, The Room, written in 1957, he
has been manipulating language, people and objects in such a way
that the suspense is perfect, a suspense of the unexplaining present
tense. A Pinter play is made of events that seem to menace the characters,
of characters who seem menaced by their environment, of menacing
of the audience by the people on stage. Undeniably this is good
theatre in that it compels and disturbs, drawing us in, refusing
us exits in the shape of answers. Pinter at his best uses these
melodramatic techniques with a saving grace of comedy.
The work put together in his Collected Poems and Prose offers few
exceptions to these general observations. This book represents his
own selection of his nondramatic writings. The earliest piece, Kullus,
a prose sketch, mostly dialogue, about the relationship between
a man of power and mystery called Kullus, his unnamed girlfriend,
and an I-figure who draws baleful inspiration from their presence,
was written when Pinter was 19. Kullus turns up also in The Examination
(1955), by invitation, as it were, and perhaps it is not fanciful
to detect a whiff of him even in later sketches. All this is quite
pleasantly sinister. Pinter's verse, though, aspires to be something
The best of it can be found in "Message", a monologue beginning
Jill. Fred phoned. He can1t make tonight. This is both clever
and funny, with a fine ear for the way someone might really speak
matched to close observation both of character and linguistic oddity.
Go on the town, burn someone to death, / Find another tart, give
her some hammer ... Lines like that suggest Pinter could have
made a playwright's living in Jacobean times, when every memorable
line had to be verse. Early and late, his other poems are mainly
concerned with love and man/woman relationships. Their obsessions
are honourable, and the reader is left with a feeling that Pinter
knows what poetry is, even if he never writes poems.
AND PROSE by Harold Pinter Faber, £5 99
|You might well expect Harold Pinter1s
poetry to be both terse and quirky. And you would not be wrong:
this selection, spanning 40 years shows a steady paring down. Words,
lines, verses all become briefer as time passes.
The lush images and romantic word coinings of his 20 year-old self
("Muffling launts of deliverate ecstasy") come eventually to the
cryptically titled Poem (1986) which runs in its entirety: "I saw
Len Hutton in his prime/Another time/another time." Anyone who watches
cricket today would know that it does not need to be one word longer.
I am not sure that Pinter is a natural poet. There is, as you might
well expect. scarcely one printed here which is without some good
lines but there are few that are wholly satisfying. Daylight (1956),
which begins: "I have thrown a handful of petals on your breasts.'
Scarred by this daylight you lie petalstruck", perhaps, comes closest.
The prose in this collection falls into two parts. There are what
might be described as sketches, perhaps try-outs for Pinter dialogue,
the first being almost a playlet written when he was 19. Some are
wildly impressionistic, others gentle and exact.
The single page, written in 1975, describing a walk along a promenade
with an old man is almost perfect: "But he had stopped talking.
He was looking down at the sea, the sea he had known so well, the
roar of our youth."
The rest is made up of memories: an evocation of the old actor-manager
Anew MeMaster, who died in 1962 and with whom the young Pinter toured,
and a memory of the old Somerset fast bowler Arthur Wellard still
turning out to play club cricket at 72.
The collection, arranged chronologically, is offered without any
explanation. A preface describing the circumstances of how these
very various pieces came to be written would have been a pleasant
addition. Perhaps when Mr Pinter adds to this collection in a few
years time, he might think of including one.