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Title: Pinter's poetry got under the skin (Guardian)
Post by: wings on 31 Dec, 2008, 14:40:06
Pinter's poetry got under the skin

by Christopher Hamilton-Emery (

Playwright and poet Harold Pinter, who died last week.
Photograph: Murdo Macleod/Guardian

As we remember Harold Pinter ( in the week after his death, his poetry has been largely overlooked. It's perhaps seen as a secondary impulse – a common enough argument when poets discuss playwrights taking a vacation in their art. But Pinter's poetry carries with it the authenticity and mystery which permeate his plays. There's a fair bit of dread, too: I think he got better as a poet as he aged and, sadly, as he became ill. I suspect that poetry's directness simply worked better for Pinter's deeply-felt convictions about our country's recent wars (wars he felt were clear atrocities) and of course the dangerous and possibly monstrous effects of US foreign policy.

It's easy to caricature the politics in Pinter's anti-war poems as highly-coloured and operatic, but this is to miss the point. Pinter's verse to some extent trod the same path as Raymond Carver's, using pared-down and sometimes banal phrasing to reach beyond the accidents and emergencies of common speech into something else. For Carver this was the epiphany of the ordinary, and the characterisation is filled with charm and at times a rather American naivety about the treasured moment and the peculiarity of minor revelation. For Pinter it was a kind of public violence, a disturbance, an enactment of control, potency and the withholding of the critical means of assessment. We're left no better off: Pinter rarely consoles us; he confronts. And yet the political aspirations and content of the poetry yield a private spiritual war against oppression – a word that is so over-used it has become barren. Pinter sought to invigorate it, and he chose lucidity and clarity.

However, Pinter's verse is also about process; it's Pinter acting out, as it were, the contrary facts of being inside the situation, the context of the poem, the context of the politics. It is in essence dramatic and vatic; read it out loud, and work your way through the fissures to get at the tissue of the man. Pinter is never about epiphany and revelation, and much more about concealment. Despite the surface of the language, the poems are essentially about withholding something. The language of the poems can be thin and etiolated, straightforward too; like Carver's it can be artless, and where Carver derided cheap tricks, one can feel that Pinter, too, was after something direct, intimate and oral. He wanted to get under our skin as quickly as possible. To get in, and do the job.

I'm not arguing here that Pinter will be remembered chiefly as a poet, though I think it's perfectly possible to see poetry in all of Pinter's plays: his love of speech, of conversation and its powerful undercurrents, lent itself perfectly to the mysterious centre of poetry; the implicit chaos of the human. In his obituary (, Michael Billington reminds us of the astonishing language of Pinter's Nobel speech, delivered by video to those gathered in Stockholm by a man looking painfully ill, his voice rasping.

I remember vividly watching the piece in a late-night broadcast and seeing Pinter deliver a biting litany of US foreign-policy disasters, listing a dozen or more military dictatorships the US has installed, instructed, instigated. It was uncomfortable viewing, and I was astonished at the bravery, the frankness. And then something of Pinter's poetry crept in. There was a pause, no more than a few seconds really, and then he said: "It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening, it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest." It uses echolalia to remarkable effect: the rhythm, the structure is unmistakable. It's poetry, of course.

This is my tribute to Harold Pinter:

Oh, the Day

for Harold Pinter

The little ones are here for you. No birds
are mithering our squared-off sons. Ruined,
they're so alike. Their sexual minds. Words
leaking in the love home. The shunned
gathered in breakable corners beneath
wire decorations with a nice gift stunned
in this smashing place, out on the last wreath
of the citadel. Can we be bothered?
Except for some mild catastrophe in
that attributable weather, no rain,
no light in the spine of the train again?
No greed, no special dark to plead again?
It's killing me, I know I'd love to know,
King Elsewhere, where the news is dying now.

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Title: Re: Pinter's poetry got under the skin (Guardian)
Post by: wings on 31 Dec, 2008, 14:41:23
Harold Pinter [Χάρολντ Πίντερ] (1930 - 2008) (