Samuel Beckett’s Whoroscope & The Hours Press


In 1928, poet, publisher, and political activist Nancy Cunard (1896-1965) purchased a well-used hand press and founded The Hours Press.

A terrific example of the small scale publishing practices of the modernist avant garde, The Hours Press published work by now canonical poets such as Laura Riding, Robert Graves, Ezra Pound, and others. “The smell of printer’s ink pleased me greatly,” remembered Cunard in her memoir These Were the Hours, “as did the beautiful freshness of the glistening pigment.”

Among Cunard’s discoveries was a young, unknown poet named Samuel Beckett. Cunard and the poet Richard Aldington advertised a competition for the best poem (up to 100 lines) about Time, to be judged by them, for which the winner would earn £10 and a pamphlet from The Hours Press.

Aldington and Cunard were initially dismayed at the entries, finding all of them “frankly bad,” until – at the very last minute – a manuscript entitled “Whoroscope” was slipped under the door. This was Beckett’s poem, written in haste to make the deadline, and the clear winner.

This first edition of Beckett’s Whoroscope was printed by hand and published in an edition of only 300 copies in 1930. It consists of only 4 pages of text and 2 pages of notes. The University of Chicago’s copy is numbered 227 and is signed by the author. The book is part of SCRC’s Modern Poetry Collection.

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