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This article is taken from PN Review 124, Volume 25 Number 2, November - December 1998.

A Wise Poet: D.J. Enright Janet Montefiore

This definitive collection, twice the length of D.J. Enright's first Collected Poems (1981) and somewhat larger than the 1987 revision, shows the poet's admirable range, variety and staying power. The difference from its predecessors lies not just in the substantial additions from two further decades of work, but from a generous new selection of early poems which clarifies the shape and direction of his achievement over fifty years. Although Enright has long been known as one of the English 'Movement', he spent most of his working life, unlike any other 'Movement' poet, in Egypt, Germany and the Far East. For all their reticence and irony, his (mainly) free verse poems now look closer to Stevie Smith and Brecht than to the crafted formality and English provincialism of Amis and Larkin. All his work is informed by the wit, humanity and learning lightly worn of an alert, discomposing intelligence standing, as Forster said of Cavafy, 'at a slight angle to the universe'.

Although the poet's voice is so individual, its tones alter considerably through the 505 pages separating the first shocked, enchanted encounter with ancient and modern Egypt in 'Deir El Bahari: Queen Hatsheput's temple' from the last wryly anecdotal 'Hospital Journal' where a deranged fellow-patient shouts from the next bed: '"I want the languages," he says. / One knows the feeling. / No, he wants the sandwiches.' The distance between this dry chilling comedy and Enright's early lyricism parallels his late 'Since then', a two-page list of ...


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