William Dunlop (1936-2005)

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In addition to being a fine poet, William Dunlop was my professor when I was an undergraduate at the University of Washington, and trying my hand at Victorian studies. What I remember best about him is how he would lean against the chalk tray on the blackboard and get chalkdust all over the back of his tweed jacket. I also remember him peering out the window at anti-war protesters in the quad below, and saying, in his British accent, “Ah, it makes me miss the dear, dead days.” (I presumed he meant the sixties, but who knows?) I remember that when we studied Thomas Hardy, he made us read the poems, too. I also remember that when the class thought he was reading aloud the first chapter of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, I noticed that he wasn’t turning the pages and was actually reciting from memory.

So here is a poem from his book, Caruso for the Children & Other Poems, published by Rose Alley Press in 1997.


I hate a tended grave. Save me a place
to go to seed in, growing so absorbed
some craft beyond a common practice shapes
my plot and has me, breathless, utter
what comes most natural. There’s a point
where skillful trimming is the work of hacks:
death should be one word no-one can compose
neat settings for. With life ruled out at last
it’s time to wax romantic, and go dead.

If there’s a stone, I want that soon to sag,
lurch in the fetters ivy loops about it,
relinquish all distinction. I trust the various weather,
lichen, and snail make epitaph a cipher,
and name a blank. I hope the fat
swags of rank grass, weeds bogged in succulence
thrive on what contributions I submit
to snag and ramble: let extravagance
brag in green garbled tongues that they compound
and bring to light what I could not account for:
slips of the tongue, jetsam of dreams, stray tags
of nonsense rhymes, the potpourri of fancies
a lifetime’s editing rightly rejected.

I want my bones’ allotment to run mad: that small
cloudburst of wilderness tell the passer-by
no more of me than, when I came to die,
confusion was my style: I lost control.

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