Enright, D(ennis) J(oseph) (Vol. 8)
Enright, D(ennis) J(oseph) 1920–
Enright is an English novelist, poet, critic, and editor. His poetry is characterized by its humanism and intelligibility. Enright has written four novels set abroad, which he disparagingly calls travel books. (See also CLC, Vol. 4, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)
["The Terrible Shears" is] grimly entertaining…. Enright is really a writer of light verse, and he tells the quite horrible events of his childhood in a jaunty tone not devoid of its own brisk gruesomeness. Odd, but distinctive, owing a good deal to Lawrence, but with an enabling, and also disabling, common sense, Enright's verse admits that by the standards of world suffering, his "wasn't a bad life":
No one was dragged out of bed by
Armed men. Children weren't speared
Or their brains dashed out. I don't
Remember seeing a man starve to death.
True, but at the same time, to the truest poetry, which must be the poetry of the single soul, irrelevant. Enright's baby sister was seen to "quietly disgorge a lot of blood" and disappear, his father's death certificate remarked that "a Contributory Cause of Death was Septic Teeth," and his grandmother, after being "pushed into" a car, shouted "with a dreadful new voice:/'I know where you're sending me,/You're sending me to the Workhouse!'" Enright's tone of the worst-below-the-worst polishes off the poem ("Geriatrics") about his grandmother:
She was found to be deranged on arrival,
And they sent her on to another place.
So she didn't go to the Workhouse after all.
She died soon after.
The banality of suffering suggests that none of us can write any longer about our own versions of it without irony. If the only alternatives to irony are bathos or false heroics, as Enright's poems imply, we have lost a great deal. (pp. 4-5)
Helen Vendler, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1975 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 6, 1975.
D. J. Enright, like Philip Larkin, is very English: they have the most recognisably English tones of any poets writing today…. [One] would distrust anything a foreigner said was 'very English,' and it is probably either complacent or vulgar or both to claim a different sort of inside knowledge. But it would not seem apposite to call Auden English, or Frost American: they write in Audenian and Frostian—lordly dialects of the international vernacular. Larkin and Enright have their own idiom, of course, quite individual to themselves, if at times mutually comparable; but poetically speaking they are also distinctively English as well—their idiom appearing to distil in poetic and linguistic form the contemporary state of the nation. These assertions lack precision, but are about as near to the question as I can come.
In many poems, as in prose works like The World of Dew, Enright has explored the nature of foreignness, our reactions to it and its reactions to us. That helps to achieve negative definition, as in 'Reflections on Foreign Literature' from … Addictions…. The exactness there could only be put in poetry, indeed only in Enright's poetry; but, for that reason, its virtues seem splendidly contemptuous of the ingrown solipsism we are accustomed to in so much contemporary poetry. Its intelligence, that is, does not seem there for the sake of the poem, but for the sake of the point it makes, which is the great virtue of Enright's poetry…. He writes reports and messages in poetic form on real situations; indeed, it would not be unduly fanciful to see many of the best poems as despatches from the guardians of an ideal diplomacy, the sort of despatches that the Duke of Wellington (that very English hero) might have written if—as he put it when apologising for the length of one—he had had the time to make them shorter.
Enright is an extrovert in the refreshing sense that when he writes about himself he does so with a mild...
(The entire section is 1,709 words.)