Samuel Beckett (Awarded: 1969)
Every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness.
Playwright and novelist Samuel Beckett’s mordant, bleaker than thou humour glimmers throughout his oeuvre. Famously the writer of a play in which ‘nothing happens, twice’ Beckett altered the theatrical and literary landscape with his increasingly minimalist excavations into the recesses of the human condition. He is arguably the least Irish of writers in terms of subject matter and style that fit in much more comfortably with the transnational avant-garde artists of his time. His deployment of repetition and his decision to write in French rather than his native tongue, as it helped him ‘write without style’, served to craft a prose voice that was able to cleave to the horror, humour and degradation of existence. Beckett’s work is concerned with ‘nothingness’, in a whittling down in the face of the insurmountable challenge of meaninglessness. The persistence of life, the sheer unlikely wonder of its irrational proliferation, in the face of these challenges is captured in one of his most famous lines from Waiting for Godot: ‘I can’t go on, I’ll go on’.
Seamus Heaney (Awarded: 1995)
When a form generates itself, when a metre provokes consciousness into new postures, it is already on the side of life. When a rhyme surprises and extends the fixed relations between words, that in itself protests against necessity. When language does more than enough, as it does in all achieved poetry, it opts for the condition of overlife, and rebels at limit.
Seamus Heaney’s work incorporates his experiences of rural farm life in Northern Ireland by marrying it to a clarity of tone and vision that is deceptively simple. His work draws on the conflicts and troubles that have faced Northern Ireland but opts to focus on the experiences of those affected rather than providing a fixed moral or political standpoint from which to oversee it. Heaney has been praised for the humaneness of his work and his popularity as a poet, in 2007 he was recorded as making up two thirds of the sales of living poets in the U.K, which stems from both his accessibility and the kindly but firm resolve that underpins it: ‘Between my finger and my thumb/ The squat pen rests/I’ll dig with it.’