Sunday, 28 September 2014

Dannie Abse

I am sorry to hear about the death of Dannie Abse, at the age of 91. I last  saw him at a memorable reading in Southwell Cathedral as part of Southwell Poetry Festival. I can't remember though if it was that reading when he told the joke about being introduced in his native Wales as Dannie Abs. He nudged the chair and said "call me Abse" and the chair replied saying "Yes, and you can call me Jonesy".
Dannie appeared in two Five Leaves' books. He had a couple of poems in our early anthology Poetry for the Beekeeper, celebrating fifteen years of Beeston Poets, where he had read. But we published thirty pages of his poems in Passionate Renewal: Jewish poetry in Britain since 1945, and he also read at the book launch. Was Dannie ambivalent about his Jewishness? Memory, and many of his poems say not, but his 'White Balloon" starts 'Dear love, Auschwitz made me / more of a Jew than Moses did.' He certain knew his Yiddish from his Hebrew which he wrote about in 'Of Two Languages'. The poem that remains most in my mind, however, is 'Case History' describing dealing with a rank anti-Semitic patient - Dannie was a doctor as well as a poet - who did not know he was a Jew, treating him and prescribing for him as if he was his brother.
Dannie's poetry was always intelligent, sometimes playful, but always accessible and stood repeated reading. His publisher was Hutchinson yet he was equally happy in the small press world, bringing out pamphlets with John Rety's Hearing Eye and giving an annual reading at John's Torriano Meeting House. There will be full obituaries in all the broadsheets.

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