The Sealey Challenge - Douglas Dunn

(My daily posts for The Sealey Challenge 2023 can be find via the link on my home page.)

7th August

Elegies, Douglas Dunn (Faber 1985)

Apart from a Welsh poem I memorised, while at Sandfields Comprehensive School for a recitation competition at the local Urdd (Mae Abertawe yn yr haul/ Yn cysgu’n dawel ger y lli./ Traeth o aur o gylch ei thread/ A Browyr wrth ei hystlys hi... - I came second), the only other poem I’ve memorised, successfully in its entirety, is Douglas Dunn’s, ‘The Kaleidsoscope’.

It was several years ago when I was running a couple of performance workshops at Simon Langton Grammar School, Canterbury with some of the 5th and 6th formers who were entering Poetry by Heart, an annual national poetry speaking competition. And there was no way I could stand in front of a group of young people offering advice on memorising and recitation if I couldn’t do it myself! Dunn’s poem is a sonnet, so only fourteen lines long and with a regular rhyme scheme and memorable imagery, which was a doddle to imprint onto my memory in comparison to some of the poems to choose from on the PBH list.

When I picked up the book again today, I couldn’t quite get through it without glancing at the page in a couple of places. But the overall shape of it was still there, hanging like a comfortable, old winter coat in the attic of my mind.

Dunn wrote Elegies after the death of his wife in 1981. I mentioned in my last post about most poetry being written in response to sadness, loss and despair. But it’s not only written by practicing poets; people who may never have read or written poetry in their life find themselves turning to it when they are grieving. It’s as if poetry, words shaped on a page, offers a receptacle for that overpowering sense of grief. For its expression, translation and communication, to self and others.

I’ve written over 20 poems about Mam and Dad in the last two and a half years and the closing line of the last poem in Elegies, ‘Leaving Dundee’, reminded my of a line in one of mine. ‘My love, say you’ll come with me,’ writes Dunn as he plans to move back home after spending time in Dundee after his wife’s death. We want our memories with us. ‘Wherever you are, there I am,’ I wrote. ‘Wherever I am, there you are.’ When I say the words out loud they ring with truth and comfort.