A bad time, the festive season turned out to be in terms of losing people. First on Christmas Day came the shock news that Harold Pinter had died, and then on the same day Eartha Kitt took her leave of us. They had in common the fact that they were both great anti-war campaigners. They also had in common the fact that they were both heroes of mine, but that, as they say, is another story.
I will stick my neck out and say that Pinter was by a distance the greatest playwright of the late twentieth century, and that only Beckett got anywhere close to challenging that position.
Pinter used everyday speech forms - yours and mine - and from that rock face cut his poetry.
As a poet he wrote prose poetry, but yes, he was a poet also, and a scriptwriter - and, as I wish to stress here (for others can write with greater authority on his plays), an effective anti-war campaigner. Yes, I use the word effective, though I'm not sure how much notice was taken... but then are we ever? I know with my own conscience that it sometimes has to nag for quite a while before I allow it to take effect.
Here is part of his speech of acceptance for the Wilfred Owen Award for Poetry ; 18 March 2005
This is a true honour. Wilfred Owen was a great poet. He articulated the tragedy, the horror, and indeed the pity -of war - in a way no other poet has. Yet we have learnt nothing. Nearly a hundred years after his death the world has become more savage, more brutal, more pitiless....
... We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery and degradation to the Iraqi people, and call it Bringing freedom and Democracy to the Middle East.But as we all know, we have not been welcomed with the predicted flowers. What we have unleashed is a ferocious and unremitting resistance, mayhem and chaos.
You may say at this point, What about the Iraqi elections? Well, President Bush himself answered the question only the other day when he said: We cannot accept that there can be free democratic elections in a country under foreign military occupation. I had to read the statement twice before I realised that he was talking about Lebanon and Syria.
And here an extract from a Dear Prime Ministerletter written to Tony Blair in 1998 - after the 1997 election:
We have been reminded over the last few weeks of Saddam Hussein's appalling record in the field of human rights. It is indeed appalling: brutal, pathological. But I thought you might be interested to scrutinise the record of your ally, the US, in a somewhat wider context. I am not at all certain that your advisors will have kept you fully informed.
The US has supported, subsidised and, in a number of cases, engendered every right-wing military dictatorship in the world since 1945.
He went on to give details of the death toll in Guatemala, East Timor, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Indonesia and the devastation wreaked in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, before signing off on a somewhat more friendly note:
Oh, by the way, meant to mention, forgot to tell you,we were all chuffed to our bollocks when Labour won the election.
The Disappeared Lovers of light, the skulls,
The burnt skin, the white
Flash of the night,
The heat in the death of men.
The hamstring and the heart
Torn apart in a musical room,
Where children of the light
Know that their kingdom has come.
The day will get off to a cloudy start.
It will be quite chilly
But as the day progresses
The sun will come out
And the afternoon will be dry and warm.
In the evening the moon will shine
And be quite bright.
There will be, it has to be said,
A brisk wind
But it will die out by midnight.
Nothing further will happen.
This is the last forecast.
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