Browne, Michael Dennis
BROWNE, Michael Dennis
Nationality: American. Born: Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, England, 28 May 1940; moved to the United States, 1965; naturalized citizen, 1978. Education: St. George's College, Weybridge, Surrey; Hull University 1958–62, B.A. (honors) in French and Swedish 1962; Oxford University, 1962–63, Cert. Ed. 1963; University of Iowa, Iowa City (Fulbright Scholar, 1965), 1965–67, M.A. in English 1967. Family: Married Lisa Furlong McLean in 1981; one son and two daughters. Career: Visiting lecturer in creative writing, University of Iowa, 1969–71. Visiting assistant professor, 1971–72, assistant professor of English, and since 1989 director of program in creative and professional writing, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Writerin-the-schools, St. Paul Council in Arts and Sciences, Minnesota, 1971–86; visiting professor, Beijing Normal University, Fall 1980; visiting writer, University of South Florida, Tampa, 1987. Awards: Hallmark prize 1967; Minnesota State Arts Board fellowship, 1975; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1977, 1978; Bush fellowship, 1981, grant, 1986; Loft-McKnight Writers' award, 1986; Jerome Foundation travel grant, 1988. Address: Department of English, University of Minnesota, Lind Hall, 207 Church Street S.E., Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455, U.S.A.
The Wife of Winter. London, Rapp and Whiting, 1970; revised edition, New York, Scribner, 1970.
Fox. Duluth, Minnesota, Knife River Press, 1974.
Sun Exercises. Loretto, Minnesota, Red Studio Press, 1976.
The Sun Fetcher. Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1978.
Smoke from the Fires. Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1985.
You Won't Remember This: Poems. Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1992.
Selected Poems, 1965–1995. Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1997.
2 for 5: Two Authors-5 Years. Minneapolis, Minnesota, Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, 1999.
Recording: The Poetry of Michael Dennis Browne, McGraw Hill, n.d.
How the Stars Were Made (cantata for children), music by David Lord (produced Farnham, Surrey, 1967). London, Chester, 1967.
The Wife of Winter (song cycle), music by David Lord (produced Aldeburgh, Suffolk, 1968). London, Universal, 1968.
The Sea Journey (cantata for children), music by David Lord (produced Farmham, Surrey, 1969). London, Universal, 1969.
Nonsongs, music by David Lord. London, Universal, 1973.
The Snow Queen, adaptation of the tale by Hans Christian Andersen (produced Minneapolis, 1976).
Carol of the Candle, music by Stephen Paulus. N.p., AMSI, 1977.
Carol of the Hill, music by Stephen Paulus. N.p., Hinshaw, 1977.
Mad Book, Shadow Book (song cycle), music by Stephen Paulus (produced Minneapolis, 1977).
Fountain of My Friends (songs for children), music by Stephen Paulus (produced Minneapolis, 1977).
Canticles: Songs and Rituals for Easter and the May, music by Stephen Paulus (produced Minneapolis, 1978).
North Shore (choral work), music by Stephen Paulus (produced St. Paul, Minnesota, 1978).
The Village Singer, music by Stephen Paulus, adaptation of a story by Mary Wilkins Freeman (produced St. Louis, 1979). Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, European-American Music, 1984.
All My Pretty Ones (song cycle), music by Stephen Paulus (produced St. Paul, Minnesota, 1984).
Artsongs (song cycle), music by Stephen Paulus. Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, European-American Music, 1986.
Sitting on the Porch (song cycle), music by Carolyn Jennings (produced Northfield, Minnesota, 1987).
Able-to-Fall (song cycle), music by John Foley (produced Omaha, Nebraska, 1988).
As a River of Light, music by John Foley. Phoenix, Arizona, Epoch Universal, 1989.
Poetry and Hope. St. Joseph, Minnesota, College of Saint Benedict, 1992.*
Critical Study: By Stephen C. Behrendt, in Prairie Schooner (Lincoln, Nebraska), 68(2), Summer 1994.
Michael Dennis Browne comments:
With You Won't Remember This I look back over a momentous period of my personal life—my marriage, the birth of my three children, the death of my mother, my fiftieth birthday—and in the life of the world at large, to which my poems are irrevocably committed. Public events that find voice in the poems include the recent repression in China (a country I visited in 1980), the discovery of the bones of Josef Mengele in Brazil, and the slaughter of Jesuit priests in El Salvador, together with happenings close to home such as a civil rights demonstration in Georgia and the issue of censorship.
This manuscript is a crucial document for me in terms of my artistic development. I am coming to a sense of things, of the dimensions and possibilities of experience, for which I am determined to find whole poems, poems that will be able to enter other lives and contribute their reality to them. It is very important to me that my works communicate to others and equally important that the poems reflect the confusions and contradictions of the original experiences. The struggle continues to be to find a focus for sometimes widely disparate elements that propose themselves to the imagination as capable of being (somehow!) combined.
The title poem, "You Won't Remember This," is an extended work in several sections that proceeds from specific childhood memories (my children's, my wife's, my own, intermingled) into speculations on what the dead might remember of earth and what, in the case of certain beloved ones, I would hope they remember. I am also trying to bring into the poem aspects of my own spiritual inquiry, which intensifies with the years.* * *
Michael Dennis Browne is a poet of hard, surprising images. The clarity and suddenness of imagery make real the dreams that fill The Wife of Winter. The order of reality is successfully inverted, and the crazy world of the dream is the real, the normal, and not at all nightmarish.
Browne's voice affirms with a kind of joy, although there is a sardonic edge to the war poems and the Michael Morley sequence. He dreams and sings in the face of and despite some nameless, abstract things that underlie the world of the poems:
And you can forget the poems
that have run away from you in horror
like headless birds in the dark
you have not quite killed,
because in this house and place
there are good fresh ghosts,
there are small & near ones here.
The poems are not preoccupied with traditional themes and grand ideas ("The Terrible Christmas") but focus on the naming of things to create his world. He praises a woman because "when the king of ideas advanced through the wood/you fed him an image and he went away." Another woman, the speaker of the excellent title sequence, the "Wife of Winter," finds that waking and the morning are
Dark. A new dark. I am dropped
from the high claw of a dream. Fox
retrieves me, wolf waits.
Who is the owl with wings of snow?
And where is my eagle now?
He is not here, my lady they cry.
Browne leaps past prose with recurring, angry eagles, apples, fox, snow—images that may attain the symbolic in much the same way that Theodore Roethke, one of Browne's strongest influences, created symbols. Browne has learned much from Roethke, which is readily apparent in his rhythms and the songlike quality of many of his poems, even in an occasional image. But Browne's own voice remains clear.
In his work from the late 1970s and beyond, for example in The Sun Fetcher, the energy remains clear even while Browne develops other touchstones of his prosody. The narrative, which was submerged or only suggested in The Wife of Winter, is strong in such poems as "Fox" and "Uncle Frank." This change in voice diminishes the dream that was at the center of the earlier poems so that now it flickers like a moment's aberration or insight or like an occasional interruption of justifiable paranoia. While some of the images of Browne's poems in the 1970s seem momentary and too topical, the technical experimentation and development of his craft has advanced. A continuation of the Morley character in a sequence, for example, results in a giddy intensification of abrupt, dreamlike humor, which results in high anxiety. There is an ironic sense of celebration in "Paranoia," and the poet is at great pains to reach for vitality—and even, at times, peace—through his work:
Happier, happier are we not
O painful, painful we people are,
but once again dancing!