Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Beckett Soundings - Inge Israel

Today's book of poetry:  Beckett Soundings.  Inge Israel.  Ronsdale Press.  Vancouver, British Columbia.  2011.

Like Samuel Beckett, Inge Israel has spent much of her life in Ireland and France, she calls on that familiarity of geography while studiously inspecting the life and work of one of our greatest writers.

They Don't Tell You

when you're born
that you're not really
born, not completely,
not all of a piece,
that the rest of you lags
behind, far behind
like the tail of a comet
trailing in ancient history.

               Personne ne nous apprend

               quand on vient au monde
               qu'on ne nait pas vraiment
               pas entierement
               qu'on n'est pas intact
               qu'une partie de nous traine
               derriere tout au loin
               comme la quere d'une comete
               dans l'histoire ancienne.


Israel has captured Beckett in repose, her voice has him reconsidering everything from the paintings of Jack B. Yeats to the poems of Charles Baudelaire and Vincent Van Gogh.  Israel echoes Beckett's friendship and admiration of James Joyce, but there are always hints of the darkness Beckett endures, the diminishing spiral of the gloom he inhabited, illuminated.

It's a Poor Memory that
Only Works Backwards

The play that cannot be
written is unlike the one not
written and those abandoned
--waifs dropped surreptitiously
by the roadside on a foggy night
in the secret hope they may
miraculously find legs or, better
still, wings

while we toss about in bed
and hear all we hoped
forgotten scream
in our dreams.

The title is a phrase of Lewis Carroll's


Inge Israel has captured Beckett's most intimate, least public voice, in these poems, the siren call of deep lament.

Coming to Go

Your mother may not have
meant to have you, may
have done all she could
not to have you, but there
you are, one fine day,
unasked, body, limbs
head in place, tongue
in working order with no
say but, even if you had,
what is there to say
so you want to say nothing
yet fill up the silence
as if it were an obligation
before exiting the great
"cunt of existence."


Beckett Soundings is an examination of Beckett's mature and minimalist voice.  Inge Israel has adopted that voice with clarity and confidence.

Shakespeare Knew

A strange compulsion pushes me
into pursuing the worst.  Always has.
As Lear says: "the worst is not
so long as one can say, 'This is
the worst.'"

If language, by definition, fails,
paring it down
to its absolute minimum
may be preferable.

My silences have always been wordy...
The attempt to do worse is doomed.
In reality, a writer
can only keep trying
"to fail better."


Inge Israel grew up in France and Ireland, lived in Denmark for a period and then settled in Canada.  Israel has been named Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, won numerous literary prizes and awards and has published several books of poetry.  She currently lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

The Scream

I'm bursting with Munch,
Shostakovich tugs
at my seams while Picasso's
white dove has wings
smeared with oil.

Alfred Nobel, a lonely man,
invented dynamite, then,
sitting on a keg of it,
bequeathed a Peace Prize.
Was his sleep henceforth
less troubled?  Perhaps
not, for there followed
his wife's affair
with a mathematician.
Peaceful by nature,
he shied away from
explosives, from fuses,
wanted no fuss or mess,
simply decreed that all
sciences receive awards
-- except mathematics.


That Inge gives voice to Beckett in these poems isn't remarkable, that she has captured the echo of his voice is quite an accomplishment.  Beckett would approve of these poems, if he approved of anything at all.


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