The enigmatic Samuel Beckett still thrills

From New Statesman:

BeckettSamuel Beckett’s poems may well constitute the least-known part of his literary output. Nearly 23 years after his death, Beckett’s plays continue to be performed around the world and there is no reason to suppose they will drop from the repertoire. His novels retain a strong, if cultish, following and are currently being reissued in corrected editions. The later, very short prose texts – dry, spare, unaccommodating fictions, or meditations on the futility of fiction – hold on, too, to their sui generis status, impossible to ignore. The poems, however, have pretty much fallen from view.

…The earlier the poems, the greater the need for notes. “Whoroscope” is characteristic of Beckett’s apprentice manner, combining heavily worn book learning with a strident, in-your-face brand of modernism. The present editors don’t supply answers to all its puzzles. The poem starts:

What’s that?
An egg?
By the brothers Boot it stinks fresh.
Give it to Gillot –

and immediately we ask: who are the brothers Boot? Who is Gillot? The notes don’t tell us, even though they guide us through what is known of Beckett’s reading of Descartes, who is revealed to be the speaker of the poem and whose taste for half-hatched eggs is the donnée of the opening outburst. The sheer oddity of this and the strenuously maintained obscurity of what follows are possibly the main point. How Beckett arrived at such a style is worth considering. The misbehaving, satirical Pound of Hugh Selwyn Mauberley and Homage to Sextus Propertius may have set an example, and yet the general tone of “Whoroscope” and of Echo’s Bones and Other Precipitates (1935), Beckett’s first published collection, far exceeds anything hitherto achieved by the older poet in terms of ostentatious rebarbativeness. Joyce, whose Work in Progress – later to become Finnegans Wake – would have been a recent discovery for Beckett, is another arguable father figure; but Joyce, even at his most enigmatic, wishes to charm the reader, while there is no hint of charm in the disdainful, jarring, swottier-than-thou rhetoric of Echo’s Bones.

More here.