D. J. Enright

Image by Caroline Forbes

D. J. Enright

b. 1920 d. 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

About D. J. Enright

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 poet's flat in London. The producer was Richard Carrington.

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

Injury Time: a memoir, London, Pimlico, 2003


Signs and Wonders: Selected Essays, Carcanet, 2001


Interplay: A Kind of Commonplace Book, Oxford University...

Play Resumed: a journal, Oxford University Press, 1999...

Collected Poems 1948-1998, Oxford University Press, 1998...


Telling Tales, Oxford and New York, Oxford University...


The Oxford Book of the Supernatural (editor), Oxford...

The Oxford Book of Friendship (editor with David...


Old Men and Comets, Oxford University Press and Carcanet...



1981 Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry


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1Paradise Illustrated: A Sequence

2History of World Languages

3Since Then

4The Noodle-Vendor's Flute

5Dreaming in the Shanghai Restaurant

6Displaced Person Looks at a Cage-Bird

7The Poor Wake Up Quickly

8In Memoriam

9Board of Selection

10Combat Camera

11R-and-R Centre: An Incident from the Vietnam War

12A Liberal Lost

13Seminar on contemporary Chinese writing

14Don't smile please

15All the things

16City sorrows


18Poetical Justice

19A Memory

20Filling in a hospital registration form

21Postoperative muzziness

22Night in Bay 3

23Through the window

24Warnings, warnings!

Books by D. J. Enright