Dannie Abse was a renowned poet as well as a physician. Born in Cardiff in 1923, Abse’s identity was both Jewish and Welsh, something which he channelled into his writing. William H. Pritchard once remarked, “Abse, like all good Welshmen, cares about, because he is so endowed with, the singing voice and the sense of humour.” His first poetry collection, After Every Green Thing, was published in 1949. His work took inspiration from Dylan Thomas as well as Rainer Maria Rilke. He also drew on his experience working in a chest clinic, using the medical perspective as well as its precise vocabulary to illustrate the human journey within his poems.
Over a career spanning five decades, Dannie Abse’s work both in poetry and in semi-autobiographical fiction received countless accolades, including the Welsh Arts Council Award, the Cholmondeley Award, and the Wales Book of the Year Award. He was appointed CBE in 2012 for his outstanding contribution to literature. With a diverse collection on topics ranging from the search for meaning, youth, marriage, grief, and mortality, Abse’s work provides something with which any reader can identify. It is this union of the universal and the particular which makes Dannie Abse one of the most important Welsh writers in recent history.
At Hay 2012, 89-year-old Dannie Abse CBE discusses his autobiography Goodbye Twentieth Century, which deals with survivor’s guilt and the changes the world has undergone.
Jon Gower reviews Ash on a Young Man’s Sleeve by Abse, a semi-autobiographical account of the Holocaust and the loss of innocence.
Dannie Abse has produced a body of work with few parallels in Welsh Literature, at least in terms of its sustained levels of high quality poetry and prose across a career spanning six decades. In this, his ninetieth year, his latest volume of poems Speak, Old Parrot is published by Hutchison. Wales Arts Review caught up with him as he prepared to give a poetry reading, accompanied by students from the University of South Wales, as part of the Caerleon Arts Festival. Love, loss and memory are constant and prominent themes in Abse’s work, so I began by asking him about his brothers; Leo the campaigning Labour MP and social reformer, and Wilfred, the eminent psychiatrist.
Charlotte Rogers reflects on Abse’s There Was a Young Man From Cardiff, a story told through several narratives which capture the landscape of Wales.
As a tribute to Dannie Abse, Adam Somerset takes a look back at the Abse’s autobiographical work, historical prose which carries poetry within it.
In tribute to Dannie Abse, Dai George takes a look back at one of the writer’s most well-loved poems, Return to Cardiff, and finds within it a sense of recognition.
As part of our tribute to Abse, Wales Arts Review has teamed up with the good folks at the Hay Festival to bring you Dannie’s wonderful contributions to the festival over the years.
Phil Morris recalls his thoughts on Abse’s Ash on a Young Man’s Sleeve as the next contender in our quest to find the Greatest Welsh Novel.
On September 28th the world said goodbye to one of Wales’ most loved literary sons, Abse. In a special series of reflections and appreciations, Wales Arts Review pays tribute to the great and much loved poet and novelist, beginning here, with the words of those who knew him both personally and through his work.
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