Aidan Andrew Dun - Intro Notes - Back to Index

John Greening review of "Universal"


Aidan Andrew Dun
92pp. Goldmark, 14 Orange Street,
Uppingham, Rutland, LE15 9SQ
UKP 25 (paperback UKP 10).  1 870507 75 4

This extraordinary poem describes life with a Brahman in the Himalayas, combining a commentary on Western godlessness with accounts of the poet's formative experiences: a family exodus to the West Indies, his father's war injuries and miracle cure, his own adolescent affairs and wanderings through North African atrocities.

First impressions are that these twelve cantos (approximately 2,500 lines) are a synthesis of Whitman, Blake, Heathcote Williams and Carlos Castaneda, but the ear soon finds a compelling and original voice emerging from the loose hexameters. In fact, Universal makes a fitting retort to recent suggestions (see TLS August 6, 2002) that contemporary poets are not facing up to the big questions. Basil Bunting said of Pound's Cantos, "There are the Alps, fools"; well, here are the Himalayas. Aidan Andrew Dun achieves loftiness of vision without becoming obscure or sounding phoney - despite all the O's and apostrophising - his diction allowing for "mortgage" as easily as "tantra", for "Heinkel bomber" as much as "superconsciousness". There is even a chat about cricket: "And you called the sun a red ball/ flying through the air at Lord's to a willow-gate at sunset". The focus is very much on how a "shipwrecked westerner" is rescued by the "sunrise incantations" of a mahatma: we hear of this sage's teachings, the odd "extraphysical experience", but he is portrayed as a real character, swinging his chrome umbrella, joking, losing his temper, as vulnerable as the next man to heart attack, secret police and the hostility of neighbours.

Universal takes us on many journeys. Like the poet when he left India, we may have to cling to the outside door-handle of the train and allow our "desanctified" selves to be swept "thundering into the fiery void without anything"; but we may also feel suddenly, with him, "full and overflowing". Ian Gregory 2010