Nationality: British. Born: Yorkshire, 1952. Education: York University, B.A. in English 1973. Family: Married; one son, one daughter, and one stepson. Career: Has worked as a nursery teacher. Since 1979 full-time author. Awards: Poetry Book Society Choice; Poetry Book Society Recommendation, 1991, for Short Days, Long Nights; Alice Hunt Bartlett award; Orange prize for fiction, 1996. Address: c/o Bloodaxe Books, P.O. 1SN, Newcastle upon Tyne NE 99 1SN, England.
The Apple Fall. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1983.
The Sea Skater. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1986.
The Raw Garden. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1988.
Short Days, Long Nights: New & Selected Poems. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1991.
Secrets (for children). London, Bodley Head, 1994.
Recovering A Body. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1994.
Bestiary. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1997.
Zennor in Darkness. Harmondsworth, England, Penguin, 1993.
Burning Bright. Harmondsworth, England, Penguin, 1994.
A Spell of Winter. Harmondsworth, England, 1995.
Talking to the Dead. Harmondsworth, England, Penguin, 1996.
Love of Fat Men. Harmondsworth, England, Penguin, 1997.
Your Blue-eyed Boy. Harmondsworth, England, Penguin, 1998.
With Your Crooked Heart. Harmondsworth, England, Penguin, 1999.
Going to Egypt (for children). London, Random House, 1994.
In the Money (for children). London, Random House, 1995.
Amina's Blanket (for children). N.p., Reed Books, 1996.
Go Fox (for children). N.p., Transworld, 1996.
Fatal Error (for children). N.p., Transworld, 1996.
Allie's Apples (for children). N.p., Reed Books, 1997.
Great-Grandma's Dancing Dress (for children). Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Clyde's Leopard (for children). Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Brother Brother, Sister Sister (for children). N.p., Scholastic, 1999.
Allie's Rabbit (for children). N.p., Egmont Books, 1999.* * *
Since her first collection of poems, The Apple Fall, appeared in 1983, Helen Dunmore has proved herself a prolific and versatile writer, publishing novels and children's verse as well as further volumes of poetry. The Apple Fall introduced a poet who, at thirty-one, was already clearly in possession of her own intense, humane, and individual voice. Dunmore's sensitivities respond acutely to a broad spectrum of concerns that runs from the political to the domestic, from the abstract to the anecdotal. Themes as diverse as recollections of Proust, Berlin in the last days of the wall, the development of a baby within her own body, or a man waiting for a heart operation all engage her creativity. More than most, perhaps, Dunmore's is a world in which sensation plays a central role:
It's not that I'm afraid,
but that I'm still gathering
the echoes of my five senses—
how far they've come with me, how far
they want to go on.
Dunmore frequently writes from a perspective that reverses the stereotypical viewpoint. A poem about a child escaping from bed to interrupt the adults watching television presents the writing of poetry as a mundane activity when contrasted with the child's exploration of its dreamworld:
… the nightly row of the typewriter
and piles of discontented paper by the table.
I make poetry common as floor washing
but still you wade in, thigh-deep in dreams
at nine-thirty, while we are doped
on one sofa, numb to excellent acting.
In The Raw Garden (1988) Dunmore aimed at producing an elaborately structured, thematically linked work. The poems discuss perceived ideas of the natural and unnatural in the context of landscape and, in her own words, are "intended to speak to, through, and even over each other." Wide, occasionally surreal leaps of the imagination come to Dunmore with sometimes disconcerting ease. There can be an almost cinematic abruptness to her changes of focus, though the technique often produces images of startling power. In "Permafrost" a close-up of "frozen things / snowdrops and Christmas roses" pulls back to "nuclear snowsuits bouncing on dust" and then
… moon-men lost on the moon
watching the earth's green flush
tremble and perish.
Recovering a Body (1994) is built around another community of concerns, this time those related directly to the body: "Sexuality, aging, death, reproduction." The title poem fantasizes about a woman waking in the morning to find her body gone and then recounts the various stratagems she employs to retrieve it. This poem and many of its companion pieces are a striking demonstration of Dunmore's sensitivity to nuance and her insight into these vital areas of human feeling. The shorter poems in particular convey intense emotion in language that eschews rhetoric in favor of economy and precision:
meet me where the fire
lights the bayou
watch my sweat shine
as I play for you.
It is for you I play
my voice leaping the flames,
if you don't come
I am nothing.
Dunmore is generally at her best when working on a relatively miniature scale. The creative territory she occupies is one of markedly fluid boundaries, and it may be because of this that her longer poems, with their sometimes unwieldy structures, can seem too improvisatory and discursive for their own good.