Alan Dugan Essay - Dugan, Alan (Vol. 2)

Dugan, Alan (Vol. 2)

Dugan, Alan 1923–

American poet.

Alan Dugan's irreverent wit ranges across the whole social scene for targets…. He 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." He distrusts all slogans, all prophecy, and questions all received values, the precepts of inherited morality, which he sees as a "bad joke like everything else." Human beings are, to him, "prisoners of this world"; they are imprisoned in their skins, their jobs, their communities, the world they never made….

It is a pleasure to read Dugan because of the very fact that nothing is sacred to him. Seeing everything in an unconventional way, he can startle the reader into a fresh perception of ordinary realities. His idiom is strictly contemporary, strictly American, and his wittiest effects are produced by the incongruity between his colloquial diction and his subjects, which are often as serious as the French war in Algeria or unemployment or the Irish censorship. He is not always smooth or competent as a craftsman, but he is honest in his treatment of what he sees.

Stephen Stepanchev, "Alan Dugan," in his American Poetry Since 1945 (copyright © 1965 by Stephen Stepanchev; reprinted by permission of Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.), Harper, 1965, pp. 193-95.

Like every significant artist, Dugan invents. He tries typographical experiments: boxes, vertical arrangements, a gloss in italics, uneven margins, parallel columns. Though he prefers a tetrameter line, he can use any number of metrical patterns with restrained brilliance. He enjoys the vacation his soul is taking in his flesh and is ever on the alert for new ways to record its pleasures. If some experiences are less interesting than others, well, "All sunshine makes a desert": the real successes are shown to be so by the poems between them. Elusive as a firefly, he creates his designs from moving points of light.

Alan Dugan seems to compose without regard to popular approval; and perhaps this indifference is why he wins it. His whole concentration is on the goodness of the thing made. In his tribute to Kafka he asks, "Is your name you?" and the answer is, "Yes". His signature is written across every page of [his Collected Poems, an] excellent book.

Sister Bernetta Quinn, O.S.F., "Two Signatures," in Poetry (© 1972 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), February, 1972, pp. 301-03.

Days like these, to take Alan Dugan from the shelf is like finding another grownup at a birthday party for kiddies. An intelligent being! You want to fall to your knees in gratitude. Warfare versus Peace, for example, is a major theme in Collected Poems; unlike other writers who have been to the wars, Dugan neither boasts nor sobs, but like a man suckled on Virgil, Horace and Tacitus, he is businesslike and undeluded: war is interesting, but it is still hell, and an officer is still a "Pig / in a uniform," while peace is not great but it is good—the exsoldier can wake "from Honey-hearted sleep … in his own bed for a change" and the hard-headed can grin at a hero who has become a statue, "to you the glory, brother, / and to us the girls." There are no hawklike or dovelike answers in Dugan. He merely pays grim and merry attention to basics, whether he sings of childhood, lust, liquor, the dusty life of offices, city streets, domestic tranquility, birth,… or the cycle of mortality….

As a craftsman, Dugan is extraordinary. He loads every rift with concrete; he makes a hard, crunching music; and his control of momentum is peerless: the poems, one after another, come barreling down the alley like big black bowling balls and down you go.

Alicia Ostriker, in Partisan Review (copyright © 1972 by Partisan Review, Inc.), Spring, 1972, pp. 272-73.