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.

Books by Harold Pinter



Wilfred Owen Award for Poetry

Prize website

Nobel Laureate in Literature

Prize website