DOUGLAS DUNN. (1942-). 1) Collect information on Dunn’s life. Where does he come from? Where does he live now? What’s his social and educational background? . Life. Poet, critic. Born 1942 in Inchinnan, Renfrewshire, near Glasgow.
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1) Collect information on Dunn’s life. Where does he come from? Where does he live now? What’s his social and educational background?
Is “Britishness” an appropriate paradigm in reading contemporary Scottish writing, or has it ever been one?
… I have to admit that a “British” national identity may well be in question but due … to the puzzlement of English people at the rise of a post-imperial multi-racial society, the erosion inflicted by the Provisional I.R.A., Ulster Loyalists, and other terrorist factions in Ireland with their adjunct activities on the mainland, the so-called National Party in England with its fascist and Nazi affiliations, and far less to the convictions of the Scottish National Party. Scottish Nationalism is distinguished in Europe for its democratic principles and procedures. It hasn’t killed anyone while no one as far as I know has died for its cause in this century unless through stress, overwork, or disappointment. What I’m saying is that the nationalism with which I’m familiar is benign, and not to be confused with nationalisms elsewhere or their lethal activities.
It’s not so much a question of “Britishness” or “Britishism” as of the English language. Scotland admits to three languages – English, Scots and Gaelic. The first of these is a lingua franca, but with a Scottish accent (although sometimes with an English accent), and it is the language in which I write and speak (with a Scottish accent), although I have a facility to speak in Scots if I feel like it or the social context invites me to do so. I have never been embarrassed by this fact, which I acknowledge, simply, as a fact. But “Britishness” fails to offer a paradigm to a reading of contemporary Scottish writing. Why? – I believe the reason to be a matter of class politics among Scotland’s writers and readers as much as nationalism.
Do you perceive the existence of a broader European context for the “barbarian” poetry written in the British Isles?
I think I coined the term “barbarians” in a poetic context in the mid-1970s when I wrote the first part of my collection Barbarians. TonyHarrison was in the same district of thought and feeling at the time, and Seamus Heaney also (perhaps even a little earlier). I used the term to mean the oppositional or socially and politically hostile aspect of contemporary poetic sensibility, which was shared chiefly by poets of a working-class and/or non-English origin in the British Isles.
My notion of “barbarians” came straight from the Greek, though. “Bar-bar” in Greek was meant to imitate the uncouthsounds of the languages of those who weren’t Greek and were, allegedly, uncultured. The relationship between English and Scottish literature wasn’t a priority. At the time, I was living in Hull, in East Yorkshire, and although the poems are aware of my Scottish background and concerns, I was more conscious of the offence of class-based politics and systems organised around the apparent psychological need for demeaning and humiliation on the grounds of birth, nationality, and accent.
Is it necessary to define who the “barbarians” are? Isn’t it the dynamic of the relationship that can be artistically more productive?
“Barbarians” … are those who have otherwise been excludedfrom High Culture, but who, by the later part of the twentieth century in the North-West European Archipelago, come to possess it, very much to the embarrassment of those who assume that they have inherited and own the language and its poetic possibilities. …
You seem to indicate a tension between “High Culture” and the concerns of “the people”, and I would agree. I want to be a poet of High Culture but at the same time I don’t want to be disloyal to my native parish, my home, my most immediate people, children, friends.
2) ‘On Roofs of Terry Street’: Collect information on Terry Street. What stage in Dunn’s life is told about in the poem? What is the genre of the poem? What poetic style is the closets equivalent to the writing style as exhibited in the poem? (Pay attention to the tense of verbs.) What is the environment like? What characters are there in the poem? Define: quotidian. What is the role of the commonplace?
3) ‘A Removal from Terry Street’: Who is the speaker? What is his relation to the other characters? What kind of dialectics are observable in the poem? What do the belongings of this family tell about their ‘culture’? What’s their aspiration? What does the last line mean?
4) ‘The Come-on’: Define: ‘scholarship boy’. Collect icons and symbols in the poem. What do they symbolize? Who is the first person singular? Who is the second person singular? Who are ‘them’? What is the aim and aspiration of the speaker the likes of the speaker? What kind of strategy is proposed?
well-dressed in tweeds and serviceable shoes
Although not like an inverted popinjay of the demented gentry
But as a schoolmaster of some reading and sensibility
Circa 1930 and up to his eccentric week-end pursuits, noticing,
Before the flood of specialists, the trace of lost peoples
In a partly eroded mound, marks in the earth, or this and that
Turned over with the aforementioned impermeable footwear.
it is a cause for fear to notice that only my footprints
Litter this deserted beach with signs of human approach,
Each squelch of leather on mud complaining, But where are you going?