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This review is taken from PN Review 82, Volume 18 Number 2, November - December 1991.

NOISES OFF Harold Pinter, Collected Poems and Prose (Faber and Faber) £5.99 pb
Howard Barker, The Ascent of Monte Grappa (John Calder) £4.99 pb

Harold Pinter's early plays such as The Birthday Party (1958) combined extreme and often menacing situations with an intense examination of everyday speech which, by focusing attention on its peculiarities and the way we rarely say vvhat we mean or mean what we say, comes to suggest an absurd, inexplicable universe. The majority of the work in Collected Poems and Prose dates from the same period - 1950-63 - and inevitably reflects similar concerns.

The poetry from the 50s reads as an uneasy mixture of moody adolescent experiment, echoes of the extreme romanticism of the late 1940s à la Mervyn Peake and first drafts of the type of work Alvarez would later collect in The New Poetry and praise for being 'beyond the gentility principle'. Collections of images at the extremities of sense with little connecting argument explore a mental world where the will to life has become either paranoid projection or a malevolent will to power:

In a trite December,
A necromantic cauldron of crosses,
And on Twelfth Night the long betrayed monster
Shall gobble their gilded gondolas.
                                  'Chandeliers and Shadows'


Harold Pinter has remarked of his plays: 'I can describe none of them, except to say: that is what happened.' There is a similar feeling about the poetry here except that 'what is happening' is often the evidence of reading worn heavily. The later poetry spanning 1963-90 reads as little more than the jottings of ...


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