Image by Caroline Forbes

Harold Pinter

b. 1930 d. 2008


Sometimes, in poems, I am only dimly conscious of the grounds of my activity, and the work proceeds to its own law and discipline, with me as a go-between, as it were. - Harold Pinter

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About Harold Pinter

Harold Pinter (1930 - 2008) is best known for theatrical work, but was a poet before a playwright, and in early 2005, told the BBC that he was leaving plays to focus on poetry and political speeches. His poetry publications include War, winner of the Wilfred Owen Award, which, although only one of many awards including a CBE, the Shakespeare Prize (Hamburg) and the European Prize for Literature (Vienna) may well hold special weight for Pinter as it is given for both the poetic and political qualities of an author's work. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005.

Pinter's plays are well known for their menacing mood, and this is audible in the poems too; 'Later' begins with a view of a moon, which could be romanticised but instead progresses to a vision of blackness through "Dead trees. / Dead linoleum." The "Pinter pause" can be found in 'Before they Fall' where phrases and stanzas are choked back as the subject matter becomes too much. But these are more than companion pieces to the plays; it is through poetry that Pinter chose to deal with his treatment for cancer in his later years ('Cancer Cells'), and it is his love poem 'It Is Here', dedicated to his wife Lady Antonia Fraser, which proudly imagines a long-term love presided over by the ghost of the first breath they shared.

Michael Billington said that Pinter can take ordinary speech and "bring out its poetic quality, its rhythms, its repetitions, its hesitations, its sudden flowerings into ecstatic speech"; that same shaping process occurs even more widely in the poems, finding perhaps its exemplary moment in 'Poem (and all the others)' which makes dark music out of recurrences, echoes, and variations. But this is not his only mode, as can be seen from the brutal comedy of 'Message' or the awestruck precision of 'The Isles of Aran Seen from the Moher Cliffs'.

Having studied at both the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and the Central School of Speech and Drama, Pinter is one of the few professionally trained voices in the Poetry Archive. Yet he also reads with a writer's awareness of his words, demonstrating that his poems need no histrionics to carry their power.

His recording was made on 16 December 2002 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Selected bibliography

Disappeared and Other Poems Enitharmon Editions, 2002

The Room, Faber and Faber 1957

The Birthday Party, Eyre Methuen 1960

The Caretaker, Faber and Faber 1960

A Slight Ache and Other Plays, Methuen 1961

The Dumb Waiter, Samuel French 1961

The Collection, Methuen 1963

The Lover, Samuel French 1963

The Homecoming, Methuen 1965

Prizes

2005 Nobel Prize for Literature

Prize website

2005 Wilfred Owen Award

Prize website

2002 Companion of Honour for services to Literature

Prize website

2001 S.T. Dupont Golden Pen Award for a Lifetime's Distinguished Service to Literature

Prize website

2001 South Bank Show Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts

Prize website

2000 Brianza Poetry Prize, Italy

2000 Critics' Circle Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts

Prize website

1998 Companion of Literature, RSL

Prize website

1997 BAFTA Fellowship

Prize website

1997 Sunday Times Award for Literary Excellence

Prize website

1997 Moliere d'Honneur, Paris in recognition of his life's work

1996 Laurence Olivier Special Award

1995 The David Cohen British Literature Prize

Prize website

1992 Chilean Order of Merit

1980 Pirandello Prize (Palermo)

1973 European Prize for Literature (Vienna)

Prize website

1970 Shakespeare Prize (Hamburg)

Prize website

2007 Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur

Prize website

Books by Harold Pinter