© Image by Caroline Forbes

D J  Enright

(1920 - 2002)

"As a new empire swells into the full glare of the global limelight, its novelists and balladeers could very well take a good lesson from Enright: Look long and hard. Write clearly. And keep it sharp." - James Norton, Flakmag

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

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Select bibliography

  • A Commentary on Goethe's Faust, Norfolk, Connecticut, New Directions, 1949 - out of print
  • The Laughing Hyena and Other Poems, London, Routledge & Paul, 1953 - out of print
  • Poets of the 1950s: an anthology of new English verse (editor), Tokyo, Kenkyusha, 1955 - out of print
  • The World of Dew: Aspects of Living Japan, London, Secker & Warburg, 1955 - out of print
  • Bread Rather than Blossoms: Poems, Secker & Warburg, 1956 - out of print
  • The Year of the Monkey, Kobe, Board of Directors of Konan University, 1956 - out of print
  • The Poetry of Living Japan: An Anthology (translator with Tackamichi Ninomiya), London, Murray, 1957 - out of print
  • Some Men are Brothers: Poems, London, Chatto & Windus, 1960 - out of print
  • Addictions: Poems, Chatto & Windus, 1962 - out of print
  • The Old Adam, Chatto & Windus, 1965 - out of print
  • Conspirators and Poets (literary cricicism), Chatto & Windus, 1966 - out of print
  • Unlawful Assembly, Chatto & Windus, 1968 - out of print
  • Memoirs of a Mendicant Professor (autobiography), Chatto & Windus, 1969 (new ed. Manchester, Carcanet, 1990) - out of print
  • Daughters of Earth, Chatto & Windus, 1972
  • Foreign Devils, London, Covent Garden Poetry, 1972 - out of print
  • The Terrible Shears: scenes from a twenties childhood (autobiography), Middletown, Connecticut, Wesleyan University Press, 1973 - out of print
  • Rhyme Times Rhyme (children's poetry), Chatto & Windus, 1974 - out of print
  • Penguin Modern Poets 26 (contributor with Dannie Abse and Michael Longley), Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1975 - out of print
  • A Choice of Milton's Verse (editor), London, Faber & Faber, 1975 - out of print
  • Sad Ires, Chatto & Windus, 1975 - out of print
  • Paradise Illustrated, Chatto & Windus, 1978 - out of print
  • A Faust Book, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1979 - out of print
  • The Oxford Book of Contemporary Verse 1945-1980 (editor), Oxford University Press, 1980 - out of print
  • Collected Poems, Oxford University Press, 1981 - out of print
  • The Oxford Book of Death, Oxford University Press, 1983 (new ed. 2002)
  • Instant Chronicles: a life (autobiography), Oxford University Press, 1985 - out of print
  • Collected Poems (Expanded ed. 1987), Oxford University Press, 1987 - out of print
  • The Faber Book of Fevers and Frets (editor), Faber & Faber, 1989 - out of print
  • Selected Poems, Oxford University Press and Carcanet, 1990
  • Under the Circumstances: poems and proses, Oxford University Press and Carcanet, 1991
  • The Oxford Book of Friendship (editor with David Rawlinson), Oxford University Press, 1991
  • Old Men and Comets, Oxford University Press and Carcanet, 1993
  • The Oxford Book of the Supernatural (editor), Oxford University Press, 1994 - out of print
  • Interplay: A Kind of Commonplace Book, Oxford University Press, 1995 - out of print
  • Telling Tales, Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press, 1997 (new ed. Carcanet, 1999)
  • Collected Poems 1948-1998, Oxford University Press, 1998 and Carcanet 1999
  • Play Resumed: a journal, Oxford University Press, 1999 - out of print
  • Signs and Wonders: Selected Essays, Carcanet, 2001
  • Injury Time: a memoir, London, Pimlico, 2003
  • D.J. Enright Reading from his poems, The Poetry Archive, 2005
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."

These poems come from a special recording made for The Poetry Archive on 13 February 2001 at The Audio Workshop, London. Producer: Richard Carrington.

D J Enright's Favourite Poetry Sayings:

"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


1981 Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry

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