portmanteaus

Tatters of song: Beckett's "mirlitonnades"

Barry Schwabsky for the Brooklyn Rail: "Chronologically, Beckett’s poetry can be roughly dived into three phases: the thirties, when he produced 25 to 27 poems (the dating of a few is ambiguous); the postwar years (6 to 8 poems dated 1946-48), and then the 70s and 80s, when in a few spurts he produced some 50 poems, notably the 37 brief French poems he called “mirlitonnades”. A mirliton is a kazoo, so these are, rather than Wallace Stevens’s “Asides on the Oboe,” asides on a kazoo. Vers de mirliton is doggerel but this sequence is among Beckett’s best work as a poet. But the big transition came in the gap between the first two periods—that is, with the war. In a conversation with the writer Charles Juliet he spoke of a sudden revelation experienced in 1946 on a trip to Ireland: “Until that moment I used to think I could trust knowledge, that I needed to be intellectually equipped. Then everything collapsed.” It was then that he began writing without the gaudy surfaces that had armored his early poetry."