Dannie Abse

Dannie Abse

Last updated: 12 April 2010

Born in 1923 in Cardiff to Jewish parents, Dannie Abse is one Britain's most prominent contemporary writers.

Abse has successfully combined a career entwined with both the literary and medical professions; the latter, combined with his Jewish background and Welsh nationality, form integral themes in much of his poetical work.

Having studied at St Illtyd's College in Cardiff and at the University of Wales, Abse entered the medical programme at Kings College, London and qualified as a doctor in 1950. Just two years before this, his first collection of poetry, After Every Green Thing (Hutchinson), was published in 1948. Walking Under Water (Hutchinson, 1952) followed four years later and in 1954 Abse's much noted novel, Ash on a Young Man's Sleeve (Hutchinson) was released.

Between the years of 1951 and 1955 Abse served as a squadron leader in the RAF at a military chest clinic near Middlesex Hospital in London, and was a specialist at the Central Medical Establishment chest clinic between the years 1954 and 1989.

Abse was a Senior Fellow of the Humanities at Princeton University between 1973-4 and President of the Poetry Society between 1978 and 1992. In 1983 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, Fellow of the Welsh Academy of Letters in 1992 (of which he was made President in 1995) and Honorary Fellow at the University of Wales College of Medicine in 1999. Abse was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Wales in 1989 and by the University of Glamorgan in 1997.

The much celebrated and prolific Welsh author received the Charles Henry Foyle Trust Award in 1960 for his play House of Cowards and in 1970 received two awards for his Selected Poems (Hutchinson, 1970): the Arts Council of Wales Literature Award and the Jewish Chronicle Book Award.

Abse was honoured with the Cholmondeley Award in 1985, an annual poetry award to honour distinguished poets bestowed by the Society of Authors in the United Kingdom. Prior to this in 1979 he received the Arts Council of Wales Literature Award for his theatrical work Pythagoras (Hutchinson, 1979).

Critical acclaim has also been forthcoming for his recent works. The Strange Case of Dr Simmonds & Dr Glas (Robson, 2002) was long-listed for the Booker Prize while a year later Abse's New and Collected Poems (Hutchinson, 2002) received the Special Commendation of the Poetry Book Society. In 2007 Abse's latest poetry collection, Running Late (Hutchinson, 2006), was awarded the Roland Mathais Prize.

Abse's memoir The Presence was voted the winner of the prestigious Wales Book of the Year award in 2008. Abse was married to the late art historian Joan Abse (nee Mercer), with whom he edited two books, Voices in the Gallery: Poems and Pictures (Tate Gallery, 1986) and The Music Lover's Literary Companion (Robson, 1988).

His critically acclaimed The Presence reflects on the loss of his wife after she died in a car accident in 2005 and paints a portrait of his 50-year marriage, the memoir having originally begun life as a diary to record Abse's grief.

He released a new poetry collection in 2009, New Selected Poems, to coincide with the 60th anniversary of his first collection After Every Green Thing.

In 2010 he released Two For Joy: Scenes from Married Life. In contrast to the grief-filled prose of The Presence, this collection of poetry is a celebration of love and his long marriage union with Joan.

Selected bibliography

  • After Every Green Thing (1948)
  • Ash on a Young Man's Sleeve (1954)
  • O. Jones, O. Jones (1970)
  • Selected Poems (1970)
  • Pythagoras (1979)
  • Ask the Bloody Horse (1986)
  • The Strange Case of Dr Simmonds & Dr Glas (2002)
  • The Presence (2007)
  • New Selected Poems (2009)
  • Two For Joy: Scenes from Married Life (2010)

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