Douglas Dunn

Image by Norman McBeath

Douglas Dunn

b. 1942

Among the finest of our poets. - Melvyn Bragg

Washing the Coins

Douglas Dunn


A Removal from Terry Street

Douglas Dunn

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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.

Selected bibliography

Invisible Ink, Mariscat Press, 2011

Twentieth Century Scottish Poetry edited by Douglas Dunn...


Robert Browning: Poems Selected by Douglas Dunn, Faber...


New Selected Poems 1964-2000, Faber and Faber 2003


Essays, Faber and Faber 2003

The Year's Afternoon, Faber and Faber 2000

The Donkey's Ears, Faber and Faber 2000


The Oxford Book of Scottish Short Stories (editor),...

Boyfriends and Girlfriends, Faber and Faber 1995


1968 Eric Gregory Award 1968 Eric Gregory Award

Prize website

1970 Scottish Arts Council Award 1970 Scottish Arts Council Book Award

Prize website

1972 Somerset Maugham Award 1972 Somerset Maugham Award

Prize website

1975 Scottish Arts Council Book Award 1975 Scottish Arts Council Book Award

Prize website

1976 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize 1976 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize

1981 Hawthornden Prize 1981 Hawthornden Prize

1985 Whitbread Book of the Year 1985 Whitbread Book of the Year

1989 Cholmondeley Award 1989 Cholmondeley Award

Prize website

2003 OBE 2003 OBE


Douglas Dunn

Douglas Dunn Reading from his Poems

1Men of Terry Street

2A Removal from Terry Street

3On Roofs of Terry Street

4The Friendship of Young Poets

5Modern Love

6The Students


8St Kilda's Parliament: 1879-1979

9An Address on the Destitution of Scotland

10Washing the Coins

11Loch Music



14The Kaleidoscope


16Empty Wardrobes

17Reading Pascal in the Lowlands

18Love-making by Candlelight

19An Address to Adolphe Sax in Heaven

20Unlike Herons

21from Disenchantments IX

22Extra Helpings

23If Only


Books by Douglas Dunn