Among the finest of our poets. - Melvyn Bragg
About Douglas Dunn
Douglas Dunn (b. 1942) was awarded an OBE in 2003 for his services to literature over a career that includes many books of plays, poems, essays and fiction, as author and editor, and awards such as the Hawthornden Prize, the Cholmondely Award, and the Whitbread Book of the Year Award for Elegies, probably his best-known work. He also writes for various journals and newspapers, and taught at the University of St Andrews from 1989 to 2008.
The intimate lyrics of Elegies are addressed to the memory of the poet's first wife, who died in 1981 – "too ill, too quick", as 'France' has it. This collection of powerful, tender poems of mourning is justly celebrated; Kate Kellaway, for example, has written that she "found it hard to read without weeping." In these poems , the tragedy is presented in the form of windows full of commiserating flowers, of empty rooms, of (in 'Empty Wardrobes') "The clothes she gave as keepsakes to friends," and this the poignancy of this presentation shows the power of formal and emotional restraint.
Dunn's other work embraces a wide range of material, including openly political address, celebrations of working class life, and a cheerful eulogy to the inventor of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax. The reading concludes with a pair of poems that he tells his listeners were written out of, firstly, "teenage sexual angst" and a second out of "late middle-aged sexual angst".
The work read on this recording shows Dunn to be a poet drawn to the musical effects of formal verse, particularly – and appropriately – in 'Loch Music', in which he hears "the rhythms of a loch" in a recording of Bach, "And what I hear is what I see / A summer night's divinity". His 1993 collection, Dante's Drum-Kit, is named for terza rima, the metrical form of interlinking rhymes used in Dante's Divine Comedy and in the extract from Dunn's poem 'Disenchantments' on this recording.
Dunn has said, in an interview, that he tells his students a good poem should work in the mind, in the heart and in the ear, and that "The reader has a right to expect these three things simultaneously." In this warm and well-balanced performance, his work can be heard, felt and understood at one and the same time.
His recording was made for the Poetry Archive on 8 August 2007 at Bona Broadcasting Ltd, Edinburgh, and was produced by Turan Ali.