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Black, D(avid) M(acleod)

BLACK, D(avid) M(acleod)


Nationality: British. Born: Cape Town, South Africa, 8 November 1941. Moved to Scotland in 1950. Education: Edinburgh University, M.A. in philosophy 1966; University of Lancaster, M.A. in Eastern religions 1971. Career: Lecturer in liberal studies, Chelsea Art School, London, 1967–70; occupational therapy aide, Friern Psychiatric Hospital, 1973–74. Since 1974 lecturer and supervisor, Westminster Pastoral Foundation, London. Also psychotherapist in private practice. Awards: Scottish Arts Council prize, 1968, and publication award, 1969 and 1992; Arts Council of Great Britain bursary, 1968. Address. 30 Cholmley Gardens, Aldred Road, London NW6 1 AG, England.

Publications

Poetry

Rocklestrakes. London, Outposts, 1960.

From the Mountains. London, Outposts, 1963.

Theory of Diet. London, Turret, 1966.

With Decorum. Lowestoft, Suffolk, Scorpion Press, 1967.

A Dozen Short Poems. London, Turret, 1968.

Penguin Modern Poets 11, with Peter Redgrove and D.M. Thomas. London, Penguin, 1968.

The Educators. London, Barrie and Rockliff-Cresset Press, 1969.

The Old Hag. Preston, Lancashire, Akros, 1972.

The Happy Crow. Edinburgh, M. Macdonald, 1974.

Gravitations. Edinburgh, M. Macdonald, 1979.

Collected Poems 1964–87. Edinburgh, Polygon, 1991.

*

Manuscript Collection: National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh.

Critical Studies: "The World of D.M. Black" by John Herdman, in Scottish International 13 (Edinburgh), February 1971; Contemporary Scottish Poetry by Robin Fulton, Edinburgh, M. Macdonald, 1974; Andrew Greig, in Akros 46 (Nottingham), April 1981; Science and Psychodrama: The Poetry of Edwin Morgan and David Black by Robin Hamilton, Frome, Somerset, Bran's Head, 1982; "The Erotic Theme in the Longer Poems of D.M. Black" by W.G. Shepherd, in The Swansea Review II (Swansea), Summer 1993.

D.M. Black comments:

My writing career shows signs of dividing into two phases, a first one from about 1960 to 1980, in which I wrote predominantly narrative poems, and a second one, still rather unforeseeable, beginning around 1990. The narrative poems were influenced by many people, including Henri Michaux, Samuel Beckett, and my fellow Scot George MacBeth. Stylistically they followed a trajectory from great formal freedom, not to say disorder, to something much more structured; three long narratives were written in hendecasyllables, a classical meter known to me mainly from Swinburne. I was fascinated for many years by the extraordinary openness created by classical meters, as opposed to the closed quality of the traditional iambic meters of English poetry. The subject matter of these narrative poems also changed in the direction of order and consciousness, starting as rather surrealist and becoming, particularly in Gravitations, more large scale and psychologically inquiring.

For personal reasons, I wrote little poetry throughout the 1980s; the Collected Poems of 1991 was effectively a summation of the first phase. Since then I have begun writing again. Translations of Goethe, a new departure, have appeared in a number of journals, including Modern Poetry in Translation and Southfields, and in doing these I have made my peace with the more familiar meters of the last few centuries in Europe. Asked to name admirations at this stage of my career, I would mention first Robert Frost, Richard Wilbur, and another Scot, the technically brilliant Robert Garioch.

*  *  *

The 1960s saw a revived interest in surrealism, and no doubt D.M. Black's earlier poetry reflected this. It was, however, a surrealism of a modified type, laced by side shrieks from George MacBeth's poetry of cruelty, tinged by science fiction and mythmaking, and peppered by the place-names of a hallucinatory Edinburgh. The heady mixture was poured into a flat, deadpan, jerkily enjambed free verse that at moments of stress could take off into lyrical humors and mild, almost pop horror. Long, exotic narratives like "Theory of Diet," "Without Equipment," and "The Rite of Spring," which refuse to come into clear focus, present nightmare explorations of cannibal islands, dwarfs speaking dwarf language, and a prince whose mother is devoured by ants. Among the shorter poems violent and extraordinary fantasies are more successfully related to a ruling idea. In "My Species" it is artificial insemination, in "The Educators" the generation gap, in "The Fury Was on Me" the transforming power of anger, and in "The Eighth Day" the revenge of fruitfulness on asceticism. In some of the most attractive poems fantasy shades off toward reality. For example, "Leith Docks" and "The Red Judge" have evocations of the dramatic northernness and Calvinist tensions of Edinburgh, "With Decorum" celebrates the mysterious sense of renewal in death like a twenty-eight-line Finnegans Wake, and "Clarity" turns a track-suited lout into a dancer:

     Open the
   windows, Jock! My
   beauties, my
   noble horses—yoked in
   pairs, white horses, drawing my great
   hearse, galloping and
   frolicking over the cropped turf.

In his later work Black has made rather a specialty of the long poem, with a clarifying of style and a leaning toward myth, romance, and fairy tale. In The Happy Crow, "Peter MacCrae Attempts the Active Life" deals with an incestuous brother-sister relationship, and "Melusine," in a variant of a medieval French legend, tells the story of a count's wife who periodically turns into a fish. In Gravitations other long poems start off from the Grimms' fairy tales and the Sumerian Gilgamesh cycle or give the tormented Browningesque confessions of a monk. These are poems of psychological and metaphysical search. Their unusualness can sometimes make them seem to promise more than they actually deliver, but the attempt to revive narrative poetry is to be applauded.

—Edwin Morgan

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