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This review is taken from PN Review 241, Volume 44 Number 5, May - June 2018.

Cover of The Noise of a Fly
Rory WatermanOur Accents Mix
Douglas Dunn, The Noise of a Fly (Faber) £10.99
It’s been seventeen years since Douglas Dunn’s last collection. The first poem here, ‘Idleness’, implies it might not have been so long, perhaps with intimations of chaos theory for what is to come:

Can you hear them? The flap of a butterfly.
The unfolding wing of a resting wren.
The sigh of an exhausted garden-ghost.
A poem trapped in an empty fountain pen.

There is a lot of what might have been in this book, and of what once was: ‘the scent of one who is no longer here’, or the fact that ‘Something about ageing makes me witness youth / Surviving in me like a troublesome / Dilemma’. This is coupled with a clear imperative, which has perhaps always been Dunn’s greatest strength, to ‘face what happens without self-pity’, as he writes in ‘Fragility’, and to try to say things as they are, or were. As he self-cautions in ‘Wondrous Strange’, another tentative ars poetica, ‘I must ask / My Muse to save me from contriving / A forger’s touch of moonlight on the page’.

Dunn’s tongue is often close to his cheek in even the book’s most sombre poems of memento mori. In ‘The Wash’, in which he writes, ‘I don’t feel like Sisyphus, I feel like his boulder’, the ageing poet asks: ‘How long does a book, or sheet of paper, last? / If the answer is hundreds of years, does that console? / Go early to bed and outstare the clock’. Dunn retired about midway between his last collection ...

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