Dugan’s Last Poems

I must admit I was beginning to tire a bit of Dugan’s Poems Seven by the time I finally finished it. Luckily, the last section entered some new areas, and Dugan’s sense of humor came to the fore, probably because by the time you reach eighty that’s about all you have left.

I seriously thought about citing a poem called “Another Cat Poem, To a Cat Person” but reconsidered when I recalled I still might need to ask for some technical assistance on updating my site.

Besides, this poem seems to have a more universal appeal and provides a cleaner answer to those who argue that America was founded on fundamental Christian principles:


After the Puritans landed at Provincetown
and the women washed their dirty clothes
their men marched to Truro to perform
their first political act: theft.
They stole the Indians’ corn
buried on Corn Hill, so why
is there no monument to them
or corn on Corn Hill in Truro?
For the same reason that there is no
working laundry in Provincetown:
Cleanliness is next to godliness,
thievery is next to Americanness,
and we must not publicize
that this country was made
by a bunch of dirty crooks.

I wish I’d found this poem while I was still teaching American Lit; I would have introduced it during that boring, beginning section when the texts introduced Puritan “literature,” which consisted almost solely of sermons and self-serving diaries.

I’m sure most students wouldn’t even recognize this as “poetry,” since it seems so different from what’s usually taught as poetry. In retrospect, this poem reminds me more of the Beat poets than traditional American poets. There’s an immediacy and grittiness usually lacking in popular poetry that can be found throughout Dugan’s poetry. It often seems to offer gnomic truths reminiscent of Emerson or Thoreau’s aphorisms, but, unfortunately, it lacks the rhythm and power that made Whitman’s re-statement of the same ideas unforgettable.

Dugan Poems Five

I’ve decided that I need to finish reading Dugan’s Poems 7 or I’ll put it down and forget it about without ever finishing the book. Truthfully, though, some of the poems are beginning to wear on me, or at least irritate me.

While it may have been a secret in some distant past that men are often horny and dream of making love to a woman, it’s pretty old news now, so it’s rather hard to get excited by poems like this:


I’m jealous of your life. What
are you doing out there. You’re
probably having a drink at that
bar and trying to get into you-
know-whose panties and joking with
those friends of yours I don’t
even know while I am sitting here
all alone in the snow having no
fun. Man, man to man, I hardly know
you so why are you doing this to me.

Perhaps I’ve just read too many Beat poets, but there doesn’t seem to be much that’s going be learned from a poem like this. Hell, it’s probably best left as an email sent to a close friend, or, even better, just kept to yourself.

It might be worth blogging or writing a poem if you DON’T feel horny anymore. Oh yeah, I think I did blog on that when I was taking some medicine before my prostate surgery. Now, that was an UNUSUAL feeling well worth writing about.

Luckily, there are enough poems like this one that do appeal to me to keep me reading until I can finish the book. (And the rain outside helps a little, too.)


I’m so unaware of what
is going on around me that
I like to watch the brief lives
of the birds: they look around
before they take a seed because
they’re always there at present,
self-accounted for in their fears,
hungers and the necessaries
of their rites, whereas I
do not see approaching cars
forget dinner and my address
and realize your beauty
only after you have made a pass
and gone away, saying, “Oh well.”

As I visit other blogger sites that I link to, I often discover just how unaware I am of the world around me. Birds, though, birds I know.

Just this morning walking in the mist I heard the cry of the Pileated Woodpecker, the thump, thump, as he dug deep into the tree rot, and finally located him across the street high in the top branches of a dying tree. Squawking blue jays announced our arrival. While Black-Capped Chickadees flitted back and forth chirping chick a dee dee dee.

Dugan’s Poems Four

I always find it a little annoying when I’m reading a poet who I think I like and I go through a hundred pages without finding a single poem that interests me. Then, suddenly, in the next hundred pages I find dozens of poems that I like. But that’s precisely what’s happening as I read Dugan’s collected poems.

I didn’t like many poems in Poems Three, but I find more poems I like than I’d ever try to write about in Poems Four. I hope it has something to do with shifting themes, since it’s generally content, and not style, that attracts me to a poem. Certainly one of his new themes that I enjoy is man’s relationship to nature. Though it is secondary to his notable poems about love’s physical nature, it’s found in several of his later poems.

Despite the fact that I was fond of several of these poems, my favorite poem was this one, which doesn’t seem related to any of his major themes, but somehow seems more relevant to my own position in life than most poems I’ve read:


I never saw any point
to life because I suffered
all the time, but now
that I am happy or bored
for whole days out of pain
I regret my past inactions.
Oh I could do nothing else.

I am almost too old
to learn about human life
but I try to, I
watch it curiously and try
to imitate its better processes.
So: First pleasures after hard times,
Hello in time for goodbye.

First, I like the deprecating sense of humor, perhaps ‘cuz Mike accused me of being serious all the time yesterday. Not so, it’s my sense of humor that has managed to get me through my life without serious breakdowns. If it hadn’t been for the television program Get Smart, I doubt I would have ever made it through Army training, and certainly not through Vietnam.

I used to think that if I could just suffer a little more I would be more creative. Than I suffered most of the things my generation suffered, like war and divorce, and a few of my own, and was too busy suffering and trying to overcome the suffering to worry too much about creating art.

Retired, having finally escaped the demands of just earning a living, I’m happy most of the time, though it’s challenging being happy very long without becoming bored. When you find time to really embrace those things you love in life, you wonder how the heck you could have missed them in the rest of your life.

Dugan’s Poems Three (1967)

I’m finding Dugan’s Poems Three (1967) a little more depressing, perhaps more realistic, than his first two books of poetry so the reading is going slower than before.

Although “Adultery” was written during the Johnson administration it seems even more appropriate during the Bush administration, where Republican criticism of Clinton’s behavior seems strangely hypocritical when viewed in light of their international policy.


What do a few crimes
matter in a good life?
Adultery is not so bad.
You think yourself too old
for loving, gone in the guts
and charms, but a woman says,
“I love you,” a drunken lie,
and down you go on the grass
outside the party. You rejoin
the wife, delighted and renewed!
She’s grateful but goes out
with a bruiser. Blood
passions arise and die
in lawyers’ smiles, a few
children suffer for life,
and that’s all. But: One memo from that McNamara and his band
can kill a city of lives
and the life of cities, too,
while L.B. “Killer” Johnson And His Napalm Boys
sit singing by their fire:
The Goldberg Variations.
So, what do a few crimes
matter in a neutral life?
They pray the insignificance
of most private behavior.

I doubt that it’s only the Daily Show that has noted the irony in the fact that Republicans were ready to impeach the President over his sexual acts but are incensed when liberals suggest that lying in order to lead the country to war and ignoring Constitutional Rights in order to protect us from terrorists are impeachable offenses.

Strange that those demanding a return to “traditional Christian values” find it acceptable to drop smart bombs on our enemies, even when they’re women and children.

To me, it’s even stranger that Conservative Christians have joined in an unholy alliance with Ayn Rand conservatives and Capitalists when it’s clear that most businesses are basically amoral, concerned solely with the profit margin. Few seem above pushing sex as a means of improving the bottom line.

Of course, if we do fall victim to this kind of mentality, then we run the real danger that “Blood/passions arise and die/in lawyers’ smiles, a few/children suffer for life,/ and that’s all.” In the grand scheme of things, personal indiscretions certainly don’t have the huge effects our government’s actions have, but I can’t imagine anything worse in my own life than thinking that my children would suffer for life because of my immoral actions.

As an INTP, I’d also suggest the possibility that such tears in the moral fabric of society threaten to destroy the social matrix that provides structure and meaning to our lives, which I hasten to add does not mean that I’ve suddenly joined Christian conservatives on a moral crusade.

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