Though his reputation was built on his work as a playwright, towards the end of his life, Harold Pinter turned again and again to poetry - a cleaner, clearer medium through which to express his growing political outrage.
While his output was not held in universal regard within the poetry community (Don Paterson famously dismissed his "big sweary outburst[s] about how crap the war in Iraq is" in his 2004 TS Eliot lecture, with a withering "anyone can do that"), he was nevertheless awarded the Wilfred Owen award for poetry, bestowed biennially on a writer seen as continuing Owen's tradition, for his 2003 pamphlet, WAR. Michael Grayer, chairman of the Wilfred Owen Association, described his poems as "hard-hitting and uncompromising, written with lucidity, clarity and economy".
Several of Pinter's poems first appeared in the Guardian. Read a selection, dating back to 1995, below.
Poem (17 January, 1995)
The world's about to break.
The world's about to chuck out all its light
And stuff us in the chokepit of its dark,
That black and fat and suffocated place
Where we will kill or die or dance or weep
Or scream or whine or squeak like mice
To renegotiate our starting price.
Cricket at Night (3 June, 1995)
They are still playing cricket at night
They are playing the game in the dark
They're on guard for a backlash of light
They are losing the ball at long leg
They are trying to learn how the dark
Helps the yorker knock back the off-peg
They are trying to find a new trick
Where the ball moves to darkness from light
They're determined to paint the scene black
But a blackness compounded by white
They are dying to pass a new law
Where blindness is deemed to be sight
They are still playing cricket at night
Order (12 September, 1996)
Are you ready to order?
No there is nothing to order
No I'm unable to order
No I'm a long way from order
And while there is everything,
And nothing, to order,
Order remains a tall order
And disorder feeds on the belly of order
And order requires the blood of disorder
And 'freedom' and ordure and other disordures
Need the odour of order to sweeten their murders
Disorder a beggar in a darkened room
Order a banker in a castiron womb
Disorder an infant in a frozen home
Order a soldier in a poisoned tomb Cancer cells (28 August, 2002)
"Cancer cells are those which have forgotten how to die" - nurse, Royal Marsden hospital
They have forgotten how to die
And so extend their killing life.
I and my tumour dearly fight.
Let's hope a double death is out.
I need to see my tumour dead
A tumour which forgets to die
But plans to murder me instead.
But I remember how to die
Though all my witnesses are dead.
But I remember what they said
Of tumours which would render them
As blind and dumb as they had been
Before the birth of that disease
Which brought the tumour into play.
The black cells will dry up and die
Or sing with joy and have their way.
They breed so quietly night and day,
You never know, they never say.
God bless America (22 January, 2003)
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.
Lust (26 January, 2006)
There is a dark sound
Which grows on the hill
You turn from the light
Which lights the black wall.
Black shadows are running
Across the pink hill
They grin as they sweat
They beat the black bell.
You suck the wet light
Flooding the cell
And smell the lust of the lusty
Flicking its tail.
For the lust of the lusty
Throws a dark sound on the wall
And the lust of the lusty
- its sweet black will -
Is caressing you still. The Watcher (9 April, 2007)
A window closes and a blind comes down
The night is black and he is deadly still
There is a sudden burst of moonlight in the room
It lights his face - a face I cannot see
I know he's blind
But he is watching me