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.

2 thoughts on “Alan Dugan’s Poems Seven”

  1. Amen. A tilting of assumptions about those we barely encounter; all we have are snapshots of people in their various roles. I know this well, as a teacher, parent, birder, activist, etc. Students, children, colleagues, strangers encountered look perplexed, as we, too, go marketing, share intimacies, sit alone on a park bench.
    I wonder how this poem might feel if this accounts receivable person (my first job out of college) were not quite as efficient at her job, but went home each evening to three teenaged grandchildren she’s raising…

  2. Things have changed in the work world since this poem was written. Today this woman would be a single mother with two children. She’d have a college degree, and years of experience as a manager at a white collar job that she lost in a corporate downsizing, in spite of great performance appraisals. This accounts receivable job would be a temp position with no benefits. Not my situation, but common enough, I am told.

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