Monday 15 June 2020


On the evening of June 15th 1930 Samuel Beckett, resident in Paris, wrote 'Whoroscope’, which would the following day win the prize for the best poem on the subject of Time in a competition organized by The Hours Press, the tiny publishing house owned by Nancy Cunard.

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 90th anniversary of this significant literary moment the shade of Nancy Cunard kindly granted me permission to revive the competition and invite a number of writers, poets and other creative people to contribute a poem or performanc on the subject of Time. 

This Leap featured our composer-in-residence Helen Ottaway, the latest canto of Spring Journal by Jonathan Gibbs read by Michael Hughes, yoga with ’Guru Dave’ Holzer, novelist and publisher Eloise Millar on Nancy Cunard and (celebrating 'Whorsoscope') Neil Griffiths, Kevin Boniface, Oscar Mardell, Aea Varfis-van Warmelo and The Pale Usher each took turns to tackle temporality. 

Every week I'm left in a contented state of speechless admiration at the energy, originality and quality of the contributions and this night was exceptional, with multi-media reflections on duration by Neil (a polyvocalic and immersive piece citing Becket, Eliot, Bergson and Heidegger), a hilarious piece about a late neighbour by Kevin, poems about a sewage works and an Eritrean petrol station and at least one contributor dressed as (and speaking like) a Furby. 

The poet Rhys Trimble performed the following new work, a response to Beckett's original poem every bit as arcane and sophisticated as the original. He has very kindly allowed me to share it here, so here it is:

Rhys Trimble



Beckett, Spanish Translation and Paper: Beckett’s “Whorescope”: Turdy Ooscopy (William Bysshe Stein)

does his smell as philtre divination
reign paradoxical like Dumpty blood whipped crystals
apotheosized {says espere the semen
Galileo's starless nariz
I'll off-pore trays at Copernicus' clef
Thru Star his phallus of of renacentistas
the red-red historical whip that interpolates
between pun fowl and ever scornful doctrine
Descartes bloodswirling to the gullible
whoremonger when received glory leads as enforces edged periquito
dos knitted iptuously para the caverna?
Copernican screw of egg?
serves blue of great feathery religious ballet
of poem whom Ooscopy runecore
dogmatism epithets bloomed archaic befouling
geometry exhausting content
sortes biblioteca mushroomy
Jigging supporter pretéritos
many for signs to Blood verbal
vis-à-vis jig it this deathbed
Latin archly against infantile
chick of the day compromising embryonic
yolken Ptolemaic escarpadas y fuego moving
lack play pilot eggs girador
Aristotle stinks of the matter suphuric
amore sukie-like controls that primeras
eye, egg, orchid optical parables that run milky 
on thoritarianism twice-read substantiation 
ovary trap cloudy inscrutable
the resonance of noisy Eucharistic God.

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