Dugan’s Poems Two

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:


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.

Alan Dugan’s Poems Seven

I still remember vividly the fist time I read a book of poems by Alan Dugan. It was the first quarter my senior year, and the class had to review a book that hadn’t been covered in class. I chose Alan Dugan’s Poems 2, probably because it had won either the National Book Award or the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry that year.

When I got my paper back one comment stood out, “Do you think this is poetry?” Well, duh. Ya think? After all it had been chosen as the best book of poetry that year by people who knew a hell of a lot more about poetry than I did as a senior in college. Besides, I really liked a number of the poems. In fact, I immediately remembered them rereading them all these years later.

It was the only “C” paper I got my senior year, and what I’d failed to realize until later was that Dugan had beat out my instructor for that award that year. Never underestimate the ego of a poet! Strangely enough, grades meant so little to me then that the instructor has remained one of my favorite poets ever since I had him for a class my freshman year in college.

One of my favorite poems from Dugan’s first book of poetry is this one:


The person who can do
accounts receivable as fast
as steel machines and out-
talk telephones, has wiped
her business lipstick off,
undone her girdle and belts,
and stepped down sighing from
the black quoins of her heels
to be the quiet smiler with
changed eyes. After long-
haired women have unwired
their pencil-pierced buns, it’s an
event with pennants when
the Great Falls of emotion say
that beauty is in residence,
grand in her hotel of flesh,
and Venus of the marriage manual,
haloed by a diaphragm,
steps from the shell Mercenairia
to her constitutional majesty
in the red world of love.

I’m not sure whether I liked this so much as a twenty-one year old college senior because I was horny or simply because I admired the understated title. The fact that I still like it suggests, though, that I think there’s an important truth behind it, one that it’s easy to overlook on in our daily encounters judging people by the demands of their jobs.

Of course, it’s Love that helps us to transcend our daily selves. Without it, we’re all in danger of becoming mere appendages of our jobs, as cold and efficient as our jobs too often demand.