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This review is taken from PN Review 225, Volume 42 Number 1, September - October 2015.

come come come and cull me Samuel Beckett, Collected Poems Ed. Seán Lawlor & John Pilling Faber & Faber (528pp, £25)

Most of Samuel Beckett’s admirers are well aware that he wrote poems as well as plays and fiction, but not many people seem actually to have read many of them, and the canon of Beckett studies includes only one monograph concentrating on the poetry. However, it was as a poet that Beckett initially tried to establish a literary reputation, and writing poetry remained important to him throughout his life. This book is an attempt to bring that work together, definitively, and to support it with the necessary scholarly apparatus.

Following a fairly perfunctory preface, we begin with Beckett’s first collection, Echo’s Bones and Other Precipitates, published in 1935 by the grandly named but unglamorous Europa Press, and then move on to the early poems he omitted from it, before finally getting to the later work. It is a baptism of fire. On the whole, the poems in Echo’s Bones are densely allusive and inventive but often unsatisfyingly unintelligible – especially the longer and more inchoate ones: they are the poems of a young man with little concern for the footing of his reader and not necessarily much to say, but a nascent genius for saying it. Many are phantasmagorical, apparently autobiographical straggles of verse grounded in real urban or semi-urban settings around Dublin. ‘Enueg I’, for example, is certainly vivid and atmospheric in snatches:

Blotches of domed yellow in the pit of the Liffey;
the fingers of the ladders hooked over the parapet,
a slush of ...

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