When I first read Alan Dugan’s Poems Two while in college, I kept a record of poems I liked on a notecard, a notecard that I transferred over to his collected poems when I bought it last year. I thought it might be interesting to compare my favorites then and now. I liked less poems this time, but the two I did like were two of those I liked when I first read.
I’m not sure whether it’s frightening or comforting that I chose the same poems forty years later. Although I’d like to think my tastes have improved with age, I guess I could rationalize that I had as good of taste then as I have now, at least in poetry.
i guess you’ll have to look at the two poems which seem, to me, at least to represent some Dugan’s greatest strengths. I suppose “Credo” must have seemed particularly relevant to me as a college senior who was about to graduate and had spent most of his college career studying poetry, with absolutely no desire to purse a career in teaching at a college:
They told me, “You don’t have
to work: you can starve,”
so I walked off my job
and went broke. All day
I looked for love and cash
in the gutters and found
a pencil, paper, and a dime
shining in the fading light,
so I ate, drank, and wrote:
“It is no use: poverty
is worse than work, so why
starve at liberty? when I
can eat as a slave, drink
in the evening, and pay
for your free love at night.”
I’m sure this poem resonated with me because one of the reasons I didn’t pursue a career in the arts was precisely the fear of starving. I’d seen my father work way too hard to earn a living to ever want to go down that road myself.
On the other hand, after spending four of the best years of my life studying poetry I wasn’t exactly looking forward to spending the rest of my life working for a bank or for Dun and Bradstreet.
You’ll notice, though, that the poet wrote “It is no use: poverty/ is worse than work” but it doesn’t say that he actually went out and got a job. It might be significant that this poem appears later in the volume:
ARGUMENT TO LOVE AS A PERSON
The cut rhododendron branches
flowered in our sunless flat.
Don’t complain to me, dear,
that I waste your life in poverty:
you and the cuttings prove: Those
that have it in them to be beautiful
flower wherever they are!, although
they are, like everything else, ephemeral.
Freedom is as mortal as tyranny.
I’ll have to admit I was often, though not always, attracted to the young girls who hung around poetry circles. Rejecting arbitrary forms of beauty was appealing, at least until I noticed leg hair sticking out of the dark nylon stockings. My recent trip to Boulder, Colorado, however, caused me to wonder whether living an alternative lifestyle might not have some rather deleterious effects on both your health and looks, at least as you begin to age.