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Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Pong of the Dead, the Pitfall of the Damned

From Damian Penny comes the news that this year's Nobel Laureate in literature is none other than: Harold Pinter. Damian reproduces a Pinter poem, and links to another. Pinter's poetry inspires comments like "awesomely bad", which I think is being over-kind.

'Course, Pinter's prize is for his plays, not his poetry. Actually, it was probably more for his politics than his plays; the BBC article talks as much about his political posturing as it does about his work. (That last clause saved me from a dangerous alliterative meltdown. Hmmm: Political Poseur Pinter Procures Prize for Plays, Not Poems. There, got that out of my system.) And Ginny, in the comments to her post at Chicagoboyz, notes that Pinter's heyday as a playwright was from 1957 to 1965, suggesting that his politics was the deciding factor in today's award.

Perhaps I'm wrong, though. The Nobel committee's timing could be a desperate attempt to hand Pinter the trinket before he disgraces himself completely. According to this Guardian article, Pinter has given up writing plays, but "I haven't stopped writing poems," he said ominously, as in the streets the children screamed, the lovers cried, and the poets dreamed of fresh starts in new, nobler careers, like telemarketing.

People have been given multiple scientific Nobels when they've been in on more than one important discovery, and two organizations have multiple Peace prizes, but I don't know if they would award multiple Literature prizes. I gather those are given out for a lifetime's work.

Well, perhaps if Pinter manages to hang on another decade or so, he can win a Peace prize. Surely his poetry will advance the cause of peace! Here's a popular portion of Pinter's peace-provoking poetry:

God Bless America

Here they go again,
The Yanks in their armoured parade
Chanting their ballads of joy
As they gallop across the big world
Praising America's God.

The gutters are clogged with the dead
The ones who couldn't join in
The others refusing to sing
The ones who are losing their voice
The ones who've forgotten the tune.

The riders have whips which cut.
Your head rolls onto the sand
Your head is a pool in the dirt
Your head is a stain in the dust
Your eyes have gone out and your nose
Sniffs only the pong of the dead
And all the dead air is alive
With the smell of America's God.

For a critique of this poem, see the Weekly Standard's J. Bottum. He manfully refrains from puerile judgments like "awesomely bad". Barely.

UPDATE: Peruse Pinter's priceless poetry at his official site. Also, this Times article quotes Pinter as saying his politics may have helped him win. Grizzled old sea captain Pinter (see the photo) seems to be recovering from wounds received in a fight with a flounder. (Says he fell.)