Alan Dugan

1923–2003
Alan Dugan

First books, especially volumes of verse, are often relegated to obscurity, but Alan Dugan's Poems was greeted with enthusiasm. Philip Booth saluted Poems as "the most original first book that has appeared on any publisher's poetry list in a sad long time," and the awards the book later received bore out Booth's appraisal. Poems was awarded the National Book Award in 1961 and the Pulitzer Prize. Many commentators felt that Dugan maintained this high level of excellence in his subsequent volumes of verse. "Never a 'promising young poet,' Dugan showed what he could do, which was considerable, in his first book," Helen Chasin commented in a review of Poems 4."And he has simply kept on writing strong, skillful, interesting poems."

Dugan's style and tone have remained consistent throughout his career. Concise and brusque, his language is close to everyday speech. X. J. Kennedy described Dugan's style as "a plain stodgy no-nonsense American prose, like that of your nearest bartender." The low-keyed humor and the strains of satire that underpin Dugan's poems have frequently attracted comment. Some of Dugan's strongest effects, R. J. Mills observed, are gained "through mockery, invective, sudden reversal, and exposure." His poetry is typically ironic and unsentimental.

For subject matter, Dugan turns to the commonplace. "A confirmed angel-wrestler, Dugan is beset by the facts of life, such as the need to make money and the unpleasant nature of the job that makes it, or the simple problem of how much to drink," Richmond Lattimore explained. Dugan's examination of daily life leads him to feelings of alienation, defeat, and despair. His disenchantment with society is reflected in his attacks on sacred cows, including the Statue of Liberty and Joyce Kilmer's "Trees." Dugan "seems more than a little fearful of life in general, for he speaks of getting up in the morning and walking out into the 'daily accident,'" Stephen Stepanchov noted. "He distrusts all slogans, prophecy, and questions all received values."

Dugan's predictable style and subject matter have led some to accuse him of stagnation. "The sameness of Dugan's poems suggests someone who is concerned not to seek variety or development, and continue working the same weirdly attractive yet essentially limited vein," Alan Brownjohn remarked. Taking the opposite tack, Robert Boyers argued that Dugan's limited range is a virtue: "By cultivating what is by any standard a confining style, and by exercising his caustic intelligence on a relatively narrow range of subjects, Dugan has created a significant body of work that speaks with authority to a variety of modern readers. One does not get terribly excited about Alan Dugan's work, but one nevertheless returns to it with increasing regularity, for it successfully inhabits that middle ground of experience which our best poets today seem loathe to admit."

When Dugan's Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry appeared in bookstores in 2001, it marked the fortieth year of his publishing career. It was also his first book to be published in more than a decade. The long layoff did not affect his poetry, however. Not only was Poems Seven lauded by critics, it also earned Dugan the 2001 National Book Award for poetry. The book included thirty-five new poems, as well as selected verse from his previous collections. Among the poems included in the book are "The Esthetics of Circumcision," "Funeral Oration for a Mouse," and "On the Supposed Immortality of Orchids."

Numerous critics praised Poems Seven, including a contributor for Publishers Weekly, who called it a "carefully constructed, funny and sometimes unvarying volume." Robert Pinsky of the New York Times lauded Dugan's ability to see poetry in the more mundane aspects of life. "Dugan's remarkable achievement is to see into mean or mundane materials with all the profundity and force of poetry," he wrote. Doris Lynch, who reviewed the book for Library Journal, asserted that Dugan brought "an intriguing and idiosyncratic vision to American poetry."

Career

Poet. Worked in advertising and publishing and as a model maker for a medical supply house in New York, NY; Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, NY, member of the faculty, 1967-71; Fine Arts Work Center, Provincetown, MA, founder and member of the faculty, beginning 1971; also taught at Connecticut College, University of Colorado, and Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill.

Bibliography

  • General Prothalamion in Populous Times, privately printed, 1961.
  • Poems (also see below), Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1961, reprinted as Poems of Alan Dugan, Atlantic (New York, NY).
  • Poems 2 (also see below), Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1963.
  • Poems 3 (also see below), Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1967.
  • Collected Poems (contains Poems, Poems 2, and Poems 3), Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1969.
  • Poems 4, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1974.
  • Sequence, cover designed and silkscreen printed by Judith Shahn, Dolphin Editions (Cambridge, MA), 1976.
  • New and Collected Poems, 1961-1983, Ecco Press (New York, NY), 1983.
  • Ten Years of Poems: From Alan Dugan's Workshop at Castle Hill Center for the Arts, Truro, Massachusetts, edited by Marion Conger et al., The Center (Truro, MA), 1987.
  • Poems Six, Ecco Press (New York, NY), 1989.
  • Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 2001.

Contributor of poetry to magazines, including New Yorker, Atlantic, Harper's, and Poetry.

Further Reading

BOOKS

  • Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 2, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1974, Volume 6, 1976.
  • Current Biography Yearbook: 1990, H. W. Wilson (New York, NY), 1990.
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 5, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1980.
  • Howard, Richard, Alone with America, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1969.
  • Modern American Literature, fifth edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
  • Stepanchev, Stephen, American Poetry since 1945, Harper (New York, NY), 1965.

PERIODICALS

  • Atlantic, November, 1961.
  • Book Week, March 1, 1964.
  • Christian Science Monitor, April 27, 1971; May 1, 1974.
  • Hudson Review, autumn, 1974.
  • Library Journal, November 1, 2001, p. 97.
  • Nation, May 13, 1961.
  • New Statesman, January 1, 1971.
  • New York Review of Books, November 23, 1967; May 7, 1970.
  • New York Times, September 5, 2003, p. C11.
  • New York Times Book Review, December 22, 1963; December 16, 2001, p. 8.
  • Observer Review, January 3, 1971.
  • Partisan Review, spring, 1972.
  • Poetry, July, 1961; March, 1964; July, 1968; February, 1972; February, 1975.
  • Publishers Weekly, October 22, 2001, p. 71.
  • Salmagundi, spring-summer, 1968.
  • Saturday Review, July 22, 1961.
  • Times Literary Supplement, August 18, 1961; March 19, 1964; January 22, 1971.
  • Village Voice, August 22, 1974.

OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:

BOOKS

  • Contemporary Poets, seventh edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.
  • Encyclopedia of World Biography, second edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.

PERIODICALS

  • Los Angeles Times, September 9, 2003, p. B10.
  • New York Times, September 5, 2003, p. C21.
  • Washington Post, September 5, 2003, p. B7.

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LIFE SPAN 1923–2003

Alan Dugan

Biography

First books, especially volumes of verse, are often relegated to obscurity, but Alan Dugan's Poems was greeted with enthusiasm. Philip Booth saluted Poems as "the most original first book that has appeared on any publisher's poetry list in a sad long time," and the awards the book later received bore out Booth's appraisal. Poems was awarded the National Book Award in 1961 and the Pulitzer Prize. Many commentators felt that Dugan . . .

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