Saturday 13 June 2020

A Leap in the Dark Saturday 13th June

A Leap in the Dark 22   8pm  Saturday 13th June 2020

              Beckett's poetry

On the evening of June 15th 1930 Samuel Beckett, resident in Paris, wrote what would become his first published work, the poem Whoroscope.

Based (according to Beckett) on Adrien Baillet's late 17th-century life of Descartes, Whoroscope was awarded the prize for the best poem on the subject of Time in a competition organized by Nancy Cunard's Hours Press. The judges were Richard Aldington and Nancy herself. The prize was ten pounds. 

As Beckett recollected in a letter to Cunard (26 January 1959):

  Whoroscope was indeed entered for your competition and the prize of 
I think 1000 francs. I knew nothing about it till afternoon of last 
day of entry, wrote first half before dinner, had a guzzle of salad 
and Chambertin* at the Cochon de Lait, went back to the Ecole and 
finished it about three in the morning. Then I walked down to the Rue 
Guenegaud [the office of The Hours Press] and put it in your box. 
That's how it was and them were the days.

To mark the imminent 90th anniversary of this significant literary moment we have arranged an evening dedicated to Beckett’s poetry in French and English, as well as his translations of other poets, with readings, performance and conversation. We’ll have readings from Paulette Jonguitud in Mexico City, Dan O’Brien in Los Angeles, Susan Tomaselli and June Caldwell in Dublin and, in London, Alba Arikha, Michael Hughes and Frank Wynne. The evening will conclude with composer Tom Smail’s superb setting of Beckett’s last poem, ‘what is the word’.

*For those of you who wish to mark the occasion appropriately Chambertin is an Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) and Grand Cru vineyard for red wine in the Côte de Nuits subregion of Burgundy.

There's no charge for taking part in A Leap in the Dark, but please make a donation, no matter how large, to The Trussell Trust.

The Programme

1 The Pale Usher welcomes you

2 ‘Whoroscope’ read by Michael Hughes (June 1930)

3 ‘Gnome’ (1934) read by David Collard

4 From Echo’s Bones and Other Precipitates (1935)
‘Alba’      read by Alba Arikha        (Aug 1931)
‘Eneug II’  read by Frank Wynne        (Aug 1931)
‘Sanies II’ read by Dan O’Brien        (Feb-July 1932)
‘Serena I’  read by David Collard.     (Oct(?)1932)

5 ‘Louis Armstrong’ by Ernst Moerman, translated by Beckett for Nancy 
   Cunard’s anthology Negro (1934), read by Dan O’Brien

6 From Poèmes 37-39  read in English and French by Alba Arikha 

                 ‘they come’/‘elles viennent’                                           
                         'a elle l'acte calme'  

7 Post war poems (i) read by David Collard


8 Beckett’s translations of Mexican poetry (1950) 
  Read in Spanish by Paulette Jonguitud and in English by Michael Hughes 
  and Aea Varfis-van Warmelo 

Miguel de Guevara (1585?-1646?)

  - I am not moved to love thee, my Lord God
  - Raise me up, Lord

Juana de Asbaje (1651-1695)

  - Describes Rationally the Irrational Effects of Love
  - Diuturnal infirmity of hope



9 Post war poems (ii) From 'Six Poèmes’ read by Aea Varfis-van Warmelo 

      'je voudrais que mon amour meure’ / ‘I would like my love to die'          
      ‘je suis cours de sable qui glisse’ / ‘my way is in the sand’

10 Beckett Translating Beckett: a conversation

11 Later poems, read by Susan Tomaselli and June Caldwell
‘Something there’  jan 74
‘dread nay’            77
‘Roundelay’            sept 76
‘thither’      sept 76
‘one dead of night’         june 77

12 mirlitonnades (Nov 1976 to June 1980) read by Aea Varfis-van Warmelo 
   and David Collard 

13 Keep! for end (29.10.88)

      ‘Comment dire’ / ‘What is the word’ read by Aea Varfis-van Warmelo

14  What Is The Word (2012) A setting by Tom Email of Samuel Beckett's 
    last poem scored for 2 sopranos, cello and narrator.
    Commissioned for the Kapoor Chamber Concert Series

    Sopranos: Helen-Jane Howells, Sophie Daneman
    Cello: Vanessa Lucas-Smith
    Narrator: Robert Bathurst

15 The Pale Usher signs off with a short reading from Beckett’s novel Watt

The Company

Alba Arikha has written five books, in fiction and non fiction. Her narrative poem, Soon, was published by CB Editions. She has also recently written a narrative poem about the pandemic which was published in Tortoise Media. Her memoir Major/Minor, published by Quartet Books in 2011, was shortlisted for the 2012 Spear’s Awards and selected among the Best Books of 2012 in the New Yorker. It will be performed as an opera, with music by her husband, composer Tom Smail, at the Playground Theatre in 2020. Her most recent novel, Where to find me, was published by Alma Books in 2018 and long listed for the 2020 Wingate Prize. 

Alba is also a singer/songwriter and has performed in Paris and London. She has recorded two CD’s of songs, Si j’ai aimé and Dans les rues de Paris

June Caldwell is the author of Room Little Darker.

Michael Hughes is the author of two acclaimed novels: Countenance Divine (2016) and Country (2018) both published by John Murray, the latter winning the 2018 Hellenic Prize. Under his stage name Michael Colgan he recently appeared in the acclaimed HBO television drama Chernobyl.

Paulette Jonguitud lives in Mexico City. She is the author of Mildew (CB editions) and Algunas margaritas y sus fantasmas. 

Tom Smail is a composer of orchestral, chamber, choral and vocal music. In 2014 Tom was commissioned to write the music for the Royal Court production of a trilogy of Samuel Beckett plays starring acclaimed actress Lisa Dwan. Two weeks at the Royal Court in January 2014 was followed by two weeks in the West End. In August it was at the Southbank Centre. September saw a national tour and October the start of an international tour, beginning at BAM in New York and culminating in June 2015 at the Barbican.

Susan Tomaselli is the founder and editor of the Irish literary journal gorse.

Aea Varfis-van Warmelo is a trilingual actor and writer. 

Frank Wynne is a literary translator. Born in Ireland, he  moved to France  in 1984 where he discovered a passion for language. He worked as a bookseller in Paris and again when he moved to London  in 1987. He translated and published comics and graphic novels and from 1996-2001 he worked in online media. He began translating literature in the late 1990s, and in 2001 decided to devote himself to this full time. He has translated works by, among others, Michel Houellebecq, Frédéric Beigbeder, Ahmadou Kourouma, Boualem Sansal, Claude Lanzmann, Tómas Eloy Martínez and Almudena Grandes. His work has earned him a number of awards, including the  Scott Moncrieff Prize and the Premio Valle Inclán. His translation of Vernon Subutex was shortlisted for the Man Booker International 2018 and his translation of Animalia by Jean-Baptiste de Amo won the 2020 Republic of Consciousness prize. His website is

The next Leap in the Dark on Friday 19th June will feature:

- music by Helen Ottaway

- Canto XIV of Spring Journal by Jonathan Gibbs, read by Michael Hughes

- Yoga with David ‘Guru Dave’ Holzer

- Susan Curtis of Istros Books in conversation with Olja Knežević, author
  of Catherine the Great and the Small

- Professor Anne Janowitz on Patti Smith and the poètes maudits

Stay well!

The Pale Usher

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