William Dunlop, poet and English scholar, was born in Southampton on 5 July 1936; he taught at the University of Washington from 1962-2001; and he died in Seattle, Washington on 20 October 2005.
William Dunlop was a writer whose work was much admired by his fellow writers: as Jonathan Raban rightly said, he had “a coterie reputation as one of the finest poets of his generation”. His poems are peculiarly memorable, taut, often bleak, sometimes joyful, always finely crafted. He worked carefully with form, metre and rhyme, and achieved a subtle and ambiguous clarity.
Landscape as Werewolf
Near here, the last grey wolf
In England was clubbed down. Still,
After two hundred years, the same pinched wind
Rakes through his cairn of bones
As he squats quiet, watching daylight seep
Away from the scarred granite, and its going drain
The hills’ bare faces. Far below,
A tiny bus twists on its stringy path
And scuttles home around a darkening bend.
The fells contract, regroup in starker forms;
Dusk tightens on them, as the wind gets up
And stretches hungrily: tensed at the nape,
The coarse heath bristles like a living pelt.
The sheep are all penned in. Down at the pub
They sing, and shuttle darts: the hostellers
Dubbin their heavy boots. Above the crags
The first stars prick their eyes and bide their time.
‘William Dunlop’s bleakest visions are rendered with such technical elan that one rejoices with them at the simple pleasure of finding darkness made so wittily palpable in rhyme and meter.’ – Jonathan Raban
William Dunlop received his education at Eastbourne College, with the Gordon Highlanders, and at Queens’ College, Cambridge, where he edited the magazine Granta. In 1962 he moved to Seattle to work with Theodore Roethke and started his teaching career at the University of Washington as an English instructor. By 1973 he had earned tenure as an Associate Professor of English, a position he held until his retirement in 2001. His poems appeared in Encounter, New Statesman, TLS, Poetry Northwest, Seattle Review, and other leading journals. In 1997 Rose Alley Press published his poetry collection, Caruso for the Children & Other Poems.
Sleep will not come. He keeps his eyes
trained on the ceiling that he cannot see
and pays heed to the darkness. On the roof
the rain is typing his biography.
How it taps on, and on! Taking dictation
at the wind’s will, insufferably it hammers
away at all the commas that prolong one
long lifetime sentence to a constant stammer
that’s sometimes moved to desperate fits and flurries,
then sullenly lulls back to the dull pounding -
out of narrative humdrum and numbskull.
When will it ever end? What chance of rounding -
off a tale so sodden, soggy, so banal?
All wasted energy, diffuse, damp, incomplete …
He wants it just to stop. His best hope is
rain too must have a deadline it must meet.
Beside the Seaside
You wouldn’t say that she “submitted.” No,
Whatever prompted her was something new
and docile not at all. Perhaps it had to do
with the short turf, the white cliff edge, the slow
cloud promenade, the surge and thud below
as each fresh wave broke down. So, anyway,
touch, tremor, nakedness all made good sense
to her, quite suddenly, and down she lay
and smiled, and helped him to forget the tense
first panic, meeting not the least defence.
And afterwards, she begged a cigarette,
lazed on her back, and beamed back at the blue
sky, blameless. He was dumb. More vehement yet
the sea beat up against the cliffs, and threw
its whopping slogs into a cave that drew
the sinewed swell out of a foaming sleeve
and sucked it in, to—like one heaving block
of quartz – explode: boom hollowly; and leave
in skittery files licksplittling through the rocks,
till the next wave recruited them, and shocked
itself to spume, finding passivity
exceeded penetration. He watched (while she
lay with her skirt around her hips, and smiled
as at a dutiful, obliging child)
and felt the strangest pity for the sea.
William Dunlop died from cancer on October 20, 2005. He will be remembered as an excellent teacher and poet and as a critic who fearlessly defended high aesthetic standards.
Of special interest to fans and admirers is the 2007 volume of William Dunlop’s Collected Poems.
The book was published by:
Classic Day Publishing,
2925 Fairview Avenue East,
Seattle, WA, 98102.
To purchase a copy of Collected Poems, please contact Carolyn Busch, Assistant to the Chair, Department of English, Box 354330, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-4330. Email: buschcu.washington.edu
Alternatively, contact William Dunlop’s widow directly at email@example.com to order copies.
Collected Poems is also available at bookstores and from amazon.com:
William’s widow edited Collected Poems, which features previously unpublished poems. The back-cover blurbs are by Jonathan Raban and Margaret Drabble. These esteemed writers rightly valued William not only as a friend but as a great poet.
NOTE: The Downpour, Landscape as Werewolf, Beside the Seaside and Square – Copyright © William Dunlop (1963 & 1997), and Copyright © Revelle Dunlop (2007)
Author: William Dunlop
Title: Collected Poems
Publisher: Classic Day Publishing
Price: US: $18 / UK: £10 / Can: $21
William Dunlop, Poet
© R J Dent (2010)