Hugh Dunkerley grew up in Edinburgh and Bath, and now lives in Brighton. He has published two chapbooks, Walking to the Fire Tower (Redbeck Press) and Fast (Pighog Press). His first full collection is Hare (Cinnamon Press). He has been a Gregory Award recipient, a Hawthornden Fellow and a Leighton Fellow at The Banff Centre for the Arts. He currently teaches English and Creative Writing at The University of Chichester.
“This original and confident collection depicts an unsettling contemporary world, where the quotidian is found to be profoundly other than expected, and a sense of troubled realism prevails. Acuity of observation, emotional depth and intellectual rigour inform Hugh Dunkerley’s work.”
– Penelope Shuttle
“What I admire about Hugh Dunkerley’s poetry is the sparseness and clarity of his language: his ability to tackle the extremities of experience – death, sex, loss, the ruthlessness of nature – with a vision which is unsentimental and yet profoundly moving.”
– Vicki Feaver
“No fault-line separates the personal or family poems in Hugh Dunkerley’s collection from his vivid empathetic observation of the natural world. From the range and close-up acuity he brings bear on wild creatures it would be easy to cast him as a nature poet, except that he applies the same sensitive but unsentimental attention to the most intimate human concerns. When he notices a dead mole’s ‘wrinkled human palms’ or when the title poem plays a real sense of the hare across a tender moment of touch, there is nothing so crude as anthropomorphism going on. Rather the effect is to remind us all that we are creatures too.”
– Philip Gross
You were sleeping when they found you,
curled in a ditch, long summer grasses
bending down to touch your senseless face.
You never heard the clatter of the circling helicopter,
never noticed the men and women
in dazzling overalls combing the fields,
the battery of bristling cameras
waiting for you at the end of the lane.
You were silent when they asked
about the men who’d taken you,
what they’d done to you
with hands, threats, caresses,
how for weeks the grasses had gradually
closed out the light until you were finally
cocooned in a green darkness.
You never woke when they lifted you,
naked, from your hiding place
and carried you away,
some skin cells, a few stray hairs,
floating down onto the broken ground,
already finding their way
in the long slow sift of matter.
This was the Canada you’d always wanted,
the old fused seamlessly with the new,
like the timber-framed lobby of the quietly
purring hotel, the restaurants serving
moules marinière and endless coffee
but with none of the surly truculence of Paris.
I was fascinated by the St Lawrence,
its cargo of pack-ice that seemed
to swirl around every side of the city,
the knowledge that to the north,
just beyond the few lights on the other bank,
there was whiteness the whole way to the pole.
You’d sprung the trip on me a few days earlier
as a Christmas present, hoping, I guessed,
for something to weave us back together.
At night I lay motionless, listening
to the low hum of the heating,
the huge space of the king-size bed between us,
while outside the lethal floes sped past.
Kingley Vale Nature Centre, West Sussex
These are the casualties,
the ones who never made it
to the tangled safety of the other verge,
their lives seeping away in ditches,
or who, racked with toxins,
lay under bushes, uncomprehending
as a million suns
burned through their bodies.
Now they’re pinned and labelled:
a catalogue of flattened rats,
voles and squirrels
frozen in assorted agonies,
the roe faun like a mummified foetus,
its too-long legs
twisted at impossible angles.
An emaciated husk
was once a green woodpecker
that must have died of starvation,
its balding plumage almost colourless.
A pinboard is lined with skulls,
pebble-sized finches and sparrows,
the curlew’s beak a huge needle,
four times as long as its head.
And below the skulls, something I can’t make out,
a thin dried-up tube of flesh
ending in two big-fingered paws
and a ruff of fur.
A faded card is lying beside it.
Mole, I can still read, July ’69.
I lift the tube onto my hand.
It weighs almost nothing.
The long claws are like fish bones.
Whatever ate it turned the skin inside out
like a glove, stripping away everything
except this stubborn spine
and these feet with their wrinkled, human palms.
The Tranquillity Maps
Their co-ordinates are silence
and the voices of water,
their symbols concealed
in the revelations of bark.
They describe the contours of light,
the seedhead’s vocabulary,
mathematics of stillness
and the geography of leaves;
elaborate the progress of lichen,
the wind’s unstructured notations.
from Hare (Cinnamon Press, 2010).