Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry, the winner of the National Book Award, presents the life work of a giant of American letters, tracks a forty-year career of honest, tough artistry, and shows a man at nearly 80 years of age and still at the height of his poetic power. Dugan’s new poems continue his career-long concerns with renewed vigor: the poet’s insistence that art is a grounded practice threatened by pretension, the wry wit, the jibes at the academic and sententious, and the arresting observations on the quotidian battles of life. All the while he peppers his poems with humorous images of the grim and daunting topics of existential emptiness.
Dugan's 1961 Poems (that year's Yale Younger Poets winner) turned much of the poetry establishment on its ear: Dugan's irreverent or cynical poems, full of horse sense and completely resistant to gloss, spoke to a community of readers soured on old forms and unattached to new ones. A celebration of spring showed how "the skunk cabbage generates its/ frost-thawing fart-gas in New Jersey and the first/ crocuses appear..." Other poems attacked America's growing involvement in Vietnam, and still others treated sex in memorably, newly flippant ways: "In spring when the ego arose from the genitals/ after a winter's refrigeration, the sergeants/ were angry..." Subsequent books (Poems Two, Poems Three and so on) continued Dugan's project of comic, bleak and formally varied commentary on a dirty, terminally frayed and yet attractive America. Yet Dugan remained aloof from the academy; as a result, his profile gradually dimmed, though he retained an enthused (and amused) core of fans, among them ex-Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky. This carefully constructed, funny and sometimes unvarying volume combines all six of Dugan's previous books with a decade's worth of new verse. One of the best of the new poems finds a domestic urgency: "Don't walk barefoot in the bathroom," it advises; "There was someone in the mirror who I killed." "You'll find in my Collected Poems," another new poem explains, "the palliative answer/ to your stupid questions": many readers just might, and the book's nomination as a National Book Award finalist should bring more of them to it.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Buy this book. Not because Dugan has won the National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize, Prix de Rome, and Yale Younger Poets awards but because he brings an intriguing and idiosyncratic vision to American poetry. This collection includes 35 new poems as well as the best poems from six earlier collections. Dugan examines a cornucopia of topics, but each poem probes one of life's truths. What you remember most after reading Dugan's poems is his sense of play, as evidenced by a few of the titles: "The Esthetics of Circumcision," "On the Supposed Immortality of Orchids," "Gargoyle's Song for a Warming Trend," and "Funeral Oration for a Mouse." Sometimes you're not sure what's happening in a Dugan poem "Marry. Sweets, tarts and sweets,/ come among soots and sherds. The dairy of the breasts" but that sense of mystery and adventure propels you forward. Indeed, Dugan is best when he weds the quotidian with a sense of life's mysteries: "Then the cat began to eat the mouse head first/ instead of going for the easier belly or asshole./ I had always wanted to see the relation/ of blood and roses restated in some novel way,/ without the biological unconsciousness of thorns." Some of the Sixties poems feel dated, but many of these pieces are still fresh. Recommended for all collections. Doris Lynch, Monroe Cty. P.L., Bloomington, IN
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
There's an engaging aimlessness to Dugan's poems—their stray attentions, their playful diction, the sense that he is taking language out for a spin. "What is better than leaving a bar / in the middle of the afternoon / besides staying in it or else not / having gone into it in the first place / because you had a decent woman to be with?" But his breezy, loping lines belie a watchful intelligence; the poems' ambiguities feel rooted in the meditations of a reflective individual amid everyday things—one who feels a tug of meaning at the sight of two ketchup bottles set lip to lip in a Second Avenue deli, "acrobatic metaphors of balance." If what binds these poems to the world is a kind of unlovely pragmatism, their magic derives from Dugan's ability to foreground the small, immediate detail, while lifting our eyes to something just beyond it.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
“The teller of these awkward truths has a role that could be called sacred … Dugan's remarkable achievement is to see into mean or mundane materials with all the profundity and force of poetry.” –Robert Pinsky, The New York Times Book Review
“[These poems'] magic derives from Dugan's ability to foreground the small, immediate detail, while lifting our eyes to something just beyond it.” –The New Yorker
“Eloquent or blunt, sometimes baffling, funny or bitter, philosophical or curiously observant, [Dugan's poems] probe every part of life.” –Boston Globe
“Deeply American in his manners, [Dugan] is the American other Americans are uneasy with. ... What separates him from, and elevates him above, other sly saboteurs and bitter enemies of posturing is the depth of his intelligence.” –Louise Glück, Threepenny Review
“[Dugan's] poems are spare, quirky, fierce, unconcessive, grudging, loving, and terribly real.” –Stanley Kunitz
“What you're holding in your hands is a monument, the lifetime trace of a mind wrangling with experience, setting down the truth in no uncertain terms. Dugan's a master.” –Louise Bogan
ALAN DUGAN’s first book, Poems, won the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize. Dugan has won the National Book Award (twice), the Pulitzer Prize, the Prix de Rome, and an award in literature from the American Academy and the Institute of Arts and Letters. He has been a fellow of the American Academy in Rome, the recipient of two Guggenheim Foundation fellowships, and a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. He died in 2003.