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.

8 thoughts on “Dugan’s Poems Two”

  1. These two poems speak to me, especially “poverty is worse than work.” He has captured the essence of the creative life, except for those few who make enough money with their art, and make it seem as though something is seriously wrong with the rest of us. Work, in this case, not meaning the work of creation, but work for someone else on someone else’s terms, work that steals time and energy from the work of creation. I’m curious what path you took, since you said you had no desire to teach at a university. Regarding the effect of an alternative lifestyle, I think the reason it poses a health risk, and I’m beginning to think that it does, is because good health care in this country is limited to those who can afford it without blinking, or those who are employed with benefits, that is, not writers, not artists.

  2. This is a rehash for many regular readers, rae, but as a result of my experiences in Vietnam I ended up first as a caseworker and then as a high school English teacher, where I mainly focused on teaching thinking skills, not poetry.

    Most of the poetry I’ve kept for myself, separate from my teaching.

    I did teach yearbook, but mainly focused on photographic fundamentals, not the artistic side.

  3. I spent 30 years of my life “on the road”. Not in the Kerouac sense, more in the Arthur Miller sense – ie as a travelling salesman. Or freelance publishers’ agent, as I liked to put it. Now I’m looking for an alternative lifestyle But not necessarily an “alternative” lifestyle.

    I love the poems.

    Don’t you think underarm hair, however, is rather appealing?

  4. Poverty may be worse than work but as an ageing, out of his depth IT worker I am opting for poverty rather than another five years of technology I cannot keep up with. Loren, you have shown me through your pictures and poems and insights that there is much to be enjoyed in retirement. I am looking forward to relative freedom in 2008 and beyond

  5. Rudi,

    I’ve never been happier than I am since I’ve retired, Rudi. Of course, I also took three months off every summer as a teacher rather than trying to find any kind of work. Hell, I even refused to work 10 extra days the last two years of teaching in order to boost my retirement.

    “Comfortable” is all I’ve ever asked for in the way of money.

    I had problems trying to update the site yesterday and somehow lost the .htaccess file in restoring the site. (probably because files beginning with “.” seem to be invisible on a mac unless you’re using certain programs.

    Then I had to get Shelly Power’s assistance in restoring permalinks.

    I’m pretty sure the problem is served.

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