Reading the Collections, Week 35: Douglas Dunn’s Elegies notebooks

Echoes from the Vault

Douglas Dunn published Elegies in 1985 – a collection of 39 poems written after the death of his first wife, Lesley Balfour Dunn, who died in 1981, aged 37, from melanoma of the eye. It was awarded the Whitbread Book of the Year prize. Dunn and Lesley were living in Hull at the time, where Dunn had originally been a librarian under Philip Larkin. They had no children but clearly had had an intensely loving relationship, he a poet and she a photographer. Writing out of his grief, in Elegies Dunn records not just the awfulness and yet somehow the strange beauty of their days together during her decline – from the diagnosis onwards – but also their earlier joyful times together, including living in France for a while. The poems also chart his subsequent return for a period of time to Scotland – to his birthplace in the…

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