William Dunlop, Poet

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

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.




The Downpour


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.

Phone: 877-728-8837

email: info@peanutbutterpublishing.com



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 sophroniasphynx@comcast.net 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

ISBN: 978-1-59849-035-0

ISBN: 1-59849-035-4

Price: US: $18 / UK: £10 / Can: $21

Format: Paperback

Pages: 182


William Dunlop, Poet

© R J Dent (2010)





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12 Responses to “William Dunlop, Poet”

  1. Jonathan Raban Says:

    I was so glad to see this: William Dunlop’s work is disgracefully under-appreciated, and I greatly hope that more readers will come to admire and enjoy his poems (which are by turns thrilling in their exact descriptions, funny, intellectually acute, and beautifully well made) via this blog. Go buy his Collected Poems!

  2. Bob Campbell Says:

    Hey – these poems are good, particularly Landscape as Werewolf… why haven’t I heard of this guy before. I was searching for werewolf poems, but this poetry is way way better than most stuff I’ve read. Now I want to read more of his work… Cool.

  3. Vaughn Trent Says:

    William Dunlop is a poet I’ve admired for several years. I never knew there was a Collected. I read Caruso a while ago, but it’s hard to get hold of – and isn’t definitive. Thanks for including so many links to his Collected Poems. If the examples you use here are indicative of the quality of his work, then I’ll definitely read more. Great poet. great blog.

  4. Charmaine Kelly Says:

    Based on the poems you’ve showcased here, I’m surprised I haven’t heard of William Dunlop. I haven’t seen many of his poems anthologised – and I do read a lot of poetry anthologies. This is a very good blog – and a very good collection of information of all manner of poets, writers, etc.

  5. John Trelawny Says:

    I once met William Dunlop in Seattle – he was teaching there – a very nice man – loved music. I knew he wrote poetry, essays and reviews, but I never read any of his poetry till now. He’s a very good poet.

  6. donald acott Says:

    Dunlop is a great, great poet, but did little to promote himself. Let us, his admirers, spread the word!

  7. Andrew Collins Says:

    Thanks for bringing William Dunlop’s poetry to people’s attention. He never got the recognition he deserved. Let’s hope his poetry does now he’s no longer with us.

  8. Christopher Wiseman Says:

    I knew William at Cambridge where we were contemporaries and fellow “young poets.” I was delighted when we were in touch again and swapped books – his Caruso is fine. I must get the Collected. I hadn’t realised William had died. I’m so sorry – he was a very fine poet and I liked him greatly and I’m sorry that we didn’t get to meet again as Seattle and Calgary aren’t that far apart.

  9. Terry Adams Says:

    Didn’t know anything about William Dunlop – but am definitely going to read his poems now. Good info. Thanks.

  10. Ralph Stevens Says:

    I was a student of William’s at the UW back in the ’70’s and he was the best teacher I ever had. Taught me how to read literature. He was an enthusiastic reader of Jane Austen (enthusiasm was probably William’s chief teaching mode) and made me a life-long Austenite.

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