Samuel Beckett Selected Poems 1930-1989

A new collection published by Faber and Faber
Samuel Beckett, 'Selected Poems, 1930-1989' edited by David Wheatley

Adam Thorpe reviews the new Faber edition of Samuel Beckett's poetry, edited by poet and critic David Wheatley:
[...] A literary revelation came upon me: Samuel Beckett did not invent, he observed. His is not an attenuated, surreal, abstracted world (the extreme end-gasp of that glorious era of high modernism), but utterly, piercingly real. It was telling that Ian McKellen, rehearsing this year's celebrated production of Waiting for Godot, discovered that Beckett's play, far from being "difficult", was actually rather straightforward – closer to music-hall patter than tortured existentialism.

The danger, of course, is that Beckett will be made cuddlier, the vertiginous depth of his despair superseded by a shiny surface of comic misanthropy. Beckett's compass points firmly to the sunless north of King Lear, humanity no more than a "forked radish" in a world in which spots of love flicker on a vast bleakness of heath, and language is more dangerous than silence. Beckett articulates the void for us, in a way which no one in English letters has done since Shakespeare; and we need that articulation's purity, its catharsis.

Beckett's achievement is so vast in his plays and novels that his poems have been reduced to something ancillary, of interest mainly to Beckett scholars, much as Joyce's poetry was. The curve of his verse career saw an early flowering, a long pause and then a remarkable and under-appreciated late bloom. As David Wheatley points out in his introduction to this new, rather glumly-designed Selected: "It was as a young poet that Beckett launched himself in the little reviews of 1930s Paris, and as a poet that he would make his first breakthrough into French." [Read the article]

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