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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: November 2019

4 - Innermost Dialects


Dunn's next book was not a full-length collection but the sequence Europa's Lover published as a pamphlet by Bloodaxe Books in 1982. Europe and, more specifically, France had been a powerful presence in Dunn's poetry since ‘The Musical Orchard’ in his second volume The Happier Life. Europa's Lover is of a different order than Dunn's earlier homages to Jules Laforgue, Robert Desnos and ratatouille. Neil Corcoran has noted that its style is ‘at once phantasmagorically gnomic and lucidly precise, and therefore [effects] the most secure bridge Dunn has yet erected between the almost separable kinds of poetry he has written’. Dunn had told John Haffenden that

Desnos often managed to write surrealist poems in rhyme and metre, which I find tremendously exciting, and I think the kind of poet I'd like to be – if I could just get rid of the subject matter I'm shackled with, simply as a fact of who I am – is the kind Desnos was. […] Desnos is classically European, too, like my other heroes, Camus and Nizan.

[Haffenden, 28–9]

In contrast, the modes of writing that have tended to be praised and rewarded in post-war mainstream British poetry – centralist naturalism on the one hand, a more or less politicized regionalism on the other – underline British poetry's isolation from the ‘classically European’. Europa's Lover can be read as a manifesto of creative relocation as its epigraph from Paul Nizan makes clear: ‘Men make more than one native land for themselves […] for men are born more than once’. The sequence is full of characteristic Dunn phrases such as ‘archives of sun and rain’, ‘a dusk-rinsed smoke’ and ‘lapsed literacies / Singing in earth and water ‘ but these are written into a different history and set of cultural traditions. The result is that what Neil Corcoran would call the almost separable elements of his work – the lyric shading into the surreal, the historical reimaginings, the contemporary engagements – are given permission to coexist by having a European derivation discovered for them. Europa tells the poet to ‘lose that obsession / […] which deals in / Survival, prosperity and salvation’ (SP, 212).