Arnold Wesker is one of Britain’s most prolific playwrights, best known for his 1960 trilogy that depicted the struggles of working-class Jewish life. All Things Tire of Themselves is his first poetry collection. Regret, disappointment and love lived are the principal themes of these melancholic meditations, and Wesker sets the tone with an opening admission of artistic inadequacy: “Poets are blessed./The rest of us/Are animals of prose.”
Inadequacy prevails in “Youth and Age”, where love lyrics and panegyrics to life alternate with candid laments on ageing: “Old men pee pants/Flirt beyond their means, falter./Once they made the day happen/Now they alter/ Nothing.” Other poems develop the themes of dissatisfaction and mortal angst.
Wesker’s tongue-tripping rhythm can make reading difficult, and his consciously archaic use of inverted syntax is sometimes awkward. The most arresting poems are the ones urging life on others: “Scorn the dull. Plunge teeth into the best/Spit out the bland/ Tastes may betray/But feast on!”, or those confronting mortality (“Unknit the cosy patterns/If you dare!”), where a dramatic flair balances the general lamentation.
The writing is mournful, though never maudlin. There is a zest here for life amid the elegy.