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This report is taken from PN Review 168, Volume 32 Number 4, March - April 2006.

Dorian Cooke Peter Riley

Dorian Cooke, who died on 11 September at the age of 88, is a poet without a single book to his name. All you will find is one booklet and a pamphlet, 30 pages in all, plus about 40 poems scattered in periodicals. It does not follow that he was a negligible poet.

One reason for this was an extremely active, indeed adventurous and at times dangerous, career in Yugoslavia and Egypt during the 1939-45 war as an M16 operative and then in the BBC World Service (detailed in the obituary in The Times, 11 October 2005). This action kept him away from the poetical action, but he did contribute to anthologies and periodicals during the war and after it, and he was back in Britain by 1945. But 1939 was his busiest year poetically with ten contributions, after which the average was one or two per year (James Keery's article 'The Originating Hand' in PNR 163 investigates Cooke's involvement in 1938-9 in New Apocalypse, in which he was a prime mover, and sees his position as part of an international currency involving such poets as Dylan Thomas and Paul Celan). What we see in his later work is the figure of a poet who wrote little and only occasionally, and did not present himself as a professional, but wrote with professional competence.

His work divides into two phases: 1938-9 and the rest. He was perhaps the most extreme ...


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