D. J. Enright (1920-2002) was born in Royal Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, into a family of modest means. However, the young Dennis won a place at Downing College, Cambridge where he was influenced by his controversial tutor, F R Leavis, an association that may have contributed to his difficulty in securing an academic post at a British University. So when he was offered a teaching job in Alexandria in 1947 he took it and spent the best part of the next twenty five years as a professor at different institutions abroad, particularly in the Far East. However, he kept his connections with the British poetry scene, editing in 1955 a notable anthology which brought together for the first time the ‘Movement’ poets, Larkin, Kingsley Amis and himself amongst them. His output over his long life included novels, essays and entertaining memoir, as well as poetry, though his absence from the UK meant he didn’t always receive the recognition his work deserved.

From his vantage point of outsider, Enright cast a wry and witty eye over the post-colonial societies he found himself in. He is alert to the ludicrous corruption of “officialese”, whether it’s an interview panel’s misinterpretation of “economical” as applied to poetry (‘Board of Selection’) or the capitalist jargon of ‘Warnings, warnings!’. In his best work this sceptical stance is allied to a deep empathy towards his fellow human beings, the “stunned calf” of a Vietnam vet (‘R-and-R Centre: An Incident from the Vietnam War’), or the central figure of ‘The Noodle-Vendor’s Flute’ whose two-note call engenders a sadness in the narrator that’s “a common thing./And being common,/Therefore something rare indeed.” It’s a vision that, in his religious poems, leads him to strip away centuries of myth-making to present Adam and Eve or the Virgin Mary as ordinary people, with the flaws and worries we’d all have, given their out-of-the-ordinary circumstances.

Enright’s engaging reading brings out both the humour and pathos of his work. Proud to be labelled “a humanist”, his characteristic tone is perhaps most warmly expressed in the image of the contented Chinese gentleman in ‘Dreaming in the Shanghai Restaurant’ who, like the poet, is “interested in people, without wanting to/convert them or pervert them.”

D J Enright’s Favourite Poetry Saying:

“You cannot give the world the slip more certainly than through art, and you cannot bind yourself to it more certainly than through art.” – Goethe

These poems come from a special recording made for The Poetry Archive on 13 February 2001 at the poet's flat in London. The producer was Richard Carrington.

Poems by D. J. Enright

Dreaming in the Shanghai Restaurant - D. J. Enright
R-and-R Centre: An Incident from the Vietnam War - D. J. Enright
Don’t smile please - D. J. Enright
The Noodle-Vendor’s Flute - D. J. Enright

Books by D. J. Enright



Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry

Prize website