A simply stunning collection of poems that captures the pain and transformative event of death. Written during and after Dunn's wife's struggle with cancer, simple motifs and loci are slowly inflected with reminders of our mortality. This is a lovely, if such a term can be used given the content, collection that many more should read!
This is a heartbreaking book. In a series of 39 short, emotionally-charged poems, Douglas Dunn tells the story of the death of his young wife, Lesley, from cancer. A dog-eared cookery book, a dress bought a French market stall, a trip to a ruined castle; these are the modest devices the poet uses to evoke what he had, and what he has so agonisingly lost. Everywhere are scattered illuminating sketches of the living, vanished Lesley. We learn about her in small, prismatic glances; a lively, artistic person who loved to travel, who was kind to people and animals, who took pride in her cooking. The simple happiness of her marriage to Dunn, distilled here on the printed page, heightens the sense of loss almost unbearably. These poems are about the pain and the 'wrongness' of untimely death. Inevitably the tender memories are sometimes tinged with anger. But out of despair something beautiful has been created. It reminds us what good things life and love are, and why we should celebrate them while we can.
For some reason I recently picked up this volume again, not having read any of the poems for several years. The poems were written after the death at an early age of Dunn's wife. I see I bought the first printing back in 1985/6 at a time when I had no personal experience of real grief and loss. I re-read it later following the deaths of my parents: the poems had such resonance. The poem 'Arrangements' in particular struck a chord, reflecting a similar experience registering the death of my mother who, like Dunn's wife, died too young. Dunn has an ability to convey emotion through the commonplace minutiae of life and, for all its sadness, this is my favourite volume of poetry.