Daniel Abse was born in 1923 in South Wales, the youngest of four children. Two of his brothers were influential in his education. Wilfred (the oldest), who became a psychoanalyst, introduced him to Sigmund Freud and guided him toward medicine as a profession. His brother Leo was instrumental in his becoming interested in politics, as Leo was Member of Parliament for Pontypoll—a Welsh Labour constituency—for many years and was a vocal and dynamic Labour figure. Dannie Abse has retained these interests in medicine and politics throughout his life, and they have had a pronounced effect on his writing.
Abse became interested in poetry during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and began writing during his last year at school. In the Royal Air Force during World War II, he served in the Mass Radiography Section in London; it was during this period that he became acquainted with art historian Joan Mercer, who would become his wife. His first book of poems was accepted for publication in 1946, and in 1947, as he relates in his essay “My Medical School,” he returned to Cardiff, having decided that he no longer wished to be a physician. At the urging of his family, however, he returned to London, where he was qualified as a physician in 1950. He served in the Royal Air Force from 1951 to 1955, an experience on which he drew for the background of his second novel Some Corner of an English Field, and thereafter, Abse simultaneously pursued his medical and artistic careers, with considerable success in both.
Between 1949 and 1954, Abse and some friends edited a poetry magazine called Poetry and Poverty, which led to the anthology Mavericks (1957), edited by Abse and Howard Sergeant. This collection was intended to rival the fashionable New Lines anthology published in 1956, which featured the work of such poets as Philip Larkin, John Wain, and Kingsley Amis. In his autobiography, Abse explains his editorial policy in producing
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