© Image by Norman McBeath

Douglas Dunn

(b. 1942)

"Among the finest of our poets." - Melvyn Bragg

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These poems come from a special recording for the Poetry Archive:

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Select bibliography

  • Terry Street, Faber and Faber 1969
  • The Happier Life, Faber and Faber 1972
  • New Poetry: The PEN Anthology (editor), Faber and Faber 1973
  • A Choice of Byron's Verse (editor), Faber and Faber 1974
  • Love or Nothing, Faber and Faber 1974
  • What Is To Be Given: Poems of Delmore Schwartz (editor), Carcanet 1976
  • Barbarians, Faber and Faber 1979
  • The Poetry of Scotland (editor), Batsford 1979
  • St. Kilda's Parliament, Faber and Faber 1981
  • A Rumoured City: New Poets from Hull (editor), Bloodaxe 1982
  • Europa's Lover, Bloodaxe 1982
  • To Build a Bridge, Lincolnshire and Humberside Arts 1982
  • Elegies, Faber and Faber 1985
  • Secret Villages, Faber and Faber 1985
  • Selected Poems 1964-1983, Faber and Faber 1986
  • Going to Aberlemno, Book Trust Scotland 1987
  • Under the Influence: Douglas Dunn on Philip Larkin, Edinburgh University Press 1987
  • Northlight, Faber and Faber 1988
  • Andromache/Racine (translator), Faber and Faber 1990
  • The Poll Tax: The Fiscal Fake ('Counterblasts' series), Chatto & Windus 1990
  • Scotland: An Anthology (editor), HarperCollins 1991
  • Dante's Drum Kit, Faber and Faber 1993
  • Selected Poems: Alaisdair D. F. Macrae, Longman 1993
  • Boyfriends and Girlfriends, Faber and Faber 1995
  • The Oxford Book of Scottish Short Stories (editor), Oxford University Press 1995
  • The Donkey's Ears, Faber and Faber 2000
  • The Year's Afternoon, Faber and Faber 2000
  • Essays, Faber and Faber 2003
  • New Selected Poems 1964-2000, Faber and Faber 2003
  • Robert Browning: Poems Selected by Douglas Dunn, Faber and Faber 2003
  • Twentieth Century Scottish Poetry edited by Douglas Dunn. Faber & Faber 2006
  • Douglas Dunn Reading from his Poems, The Poetry Archive 2008
  • Invisible Ink, Mariscat Press, 2011
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.


1968 Eric Gregory Award

1970 Scottish Arts Council Award

1972 Somerset Maugham Award

1975 Scottish Arts Council Book Award

1981 Hawthornden Prize

1985 Whitbread Book of the Year

1989 Cholmondeley Award

2003 OBE

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