We were sad to learn of the death from motor neurone disease of the Highland poet and writer Angus Dunn, on 27 August. This is an appreciation by his friend Ian Stephen, adapted from his foreword to High Country, a collection of Angus’s poems that has just been published by Sandstone Press.
I met Angus Dunn first at an informal creative writing group at Aberdeen University in 1979. Most people showed surprise when Angus read out a poem or a short story. There was something that drew you right in – something recognisable – but you would be approaching it from a strange angle. Catherine Lockerbie identified this gift when she selected his story 'Looking for the Spark' as the title-piece of an annual Harper Collins selection of Scottish Short Stories. It describes a man who is ordinary in most senses but gifted with grace in all he does.
Grace and surprise are key qualities of Angus’s writing. Part of the great pleasure in walking the moors of Angus’s selected poems from more than thirty-five years of writing is being startled again and again. You have a sense of stepping out from your normal territories and encountering the ‘familiar strangeness’ of the world. He is a magical-realist in poetry. In ‘Stealing Away’ there is not a fertile strip at the edge of wilder territory but ‘a stripe of houses’. A dragonfly is ‘green enough to taste’.
The poet’s work can be accomplished in very quiet ways. In contrast, ‘Blessing’ and ‘The Fire Sermon’ are examples of an ability to take on a folk voice or a shaman-like detached standpoint, viewing a great sweep of human experience from a high vantage point. His range is seen in his ability to sustain a comparison between Himalayan and Highland mountain ridges, but also to pull off a risky wee piece of wordplay as in ‘Canna – Can’. Angus’s poems are informed by wonder and curiosity, about language, history, science, nature and myth.
He was a person who allowed himself the time to look closely at a world he moved through with gentle footsteps.