Dannie Abse (abs) has always been a prolific writer, not only contributing poems to many journals, including American Review, The Times Literary Supplement, Encounter, Jewish Quarterly, and Jewish Chronicle Literary Supplement, but also producing a volume of semi-autobiographical prose (sometimes called a novel), Ash on a Young Man’s Sleeve (1954), and the novels Some Corner of an English Field (1956) and O. Jones, O. Jones (1970). In 1974, he published his autobiography, A Poet in the Family. Another collection of autobiographical pieces and reflections on the writing of poetry and autobiography, A Strong Dose of Myself (1983), was followed by Journals from the Ant Heap (1986) and Intermittent Journals (1994), sets of musings on various public and personal events, and by Goodbye, Twentieth Century: The Autobiography of Dannie Abse (2001). In 2007, Abse published The Presence, a very powerful meditation following the death of his wife, Joan, in an automobile accident in June, 2005. The book is the result of a diary he started after his wife’s death in an attempt to come to terms with his grief, sadness, and loss, and to document their more than fifty years of marriage. He has also written several plays, among them House of Cowards (pr. 1960), The Dogs of Pavlov (pr. 1969), Pythagoras (pr. 1976), and Gone in January (pr. 1978).
Dannie Abse’s literary achievement is all the more remarkable considering that he was a practicing physician. He became head of the chest clinic at the Central Medical Establishment in London in 1954 and retired from medicine in 1989. His literary interests extend naturally into the field of medicine, as may be seen in Medicine on Trial (1967).
Abse’s literary honors span several decades. He won the Charles Henry Foyle Trust Award for House of Cowards in 1960, the Welsh Arts Council Literature Awards for Selected Poems in 1970 and for Pythagoras in 1979, and the Jewish Chronicle Book Award for Selected Poems in 1970. He held a visiting fellowship of the humanities at Princeton University in 1973-1974 and became a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1983. Abse received the Cholmondeley Award for distinction in poetry in 1985, the Roland Mathias Poetry Prize for Running Late in 2007, the Arts Council of Wales Book of the Year Award for The Presence in 2008, and the Wilfred Owen Poetry Award in 2009. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Wales in 1989 and one from the University of Glamorgan in 1997.
Abse, Dannie. “Interview: Dannie Abse.” Interview by J. P. Ward. New Welsh Review 2 (Autumn, 1989): 8-12. Abse reveals his poetic goal: to illuminate allegory with human experience. He describes how his work as a medical doctor informs his poetry. An interesting article for both undergraduates and advanced students.
Baker, William, and Tabachnick, Stephen. “Reflections on Anglo-Jewish Poetry.” Jewish Quarterly 26, no. 3-4 (1978-1979): 73-84. Includes an analysis of Abse’s poetry.
Cohen, Joseph, ed. The Poetry of Dannie Abse: Critical Essays and Reminiscences. London: Robson Books, 1983. Authors of the appreciations collected here are mostly fellow poets; they include Donald Davie, D. J. Enright, Theodore Weiss, Vernon Scannell, and Daniel Hoffman. John Ormond contributes “An ABC of Dannie Abse,” cataloging numerous recurring images in the poetry. Abse’s musicality, his treatment of Jewish identity, and other important themes in the poetry and plays are examined as well. Includes an interview with Abse and a selected bibliography.
Curtis, Tony. Dannie Abse. Cardiff: University of Wales Press/Welsh Arts Council, 1985. An artfully made book that reviews Abse’s life and works chronologically. Curtis examines influences on the poet; his study is more thematic than technical, calling...
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