Alan Dugan Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Born in Brooklyn, Alan Dugan spent most of his life in New York City. His stint in the Army Air Corps during World War II was of importance to him, and a number of his first published poems were portraits of servicemen. He attended Queens College and Olivet College, and received his B.A. degree from Mexico City College. He married Judith Shahn, the daughter of the painter Ben Shahn. After the war, he held a number of jobs in New York City, working in advertising and publishing and as a maker of models for a medical supply house. These jobs made him dissatisfied with the world of office work, which he satirized in his poetry.

The success of his first book of poems in 1961 led to his winning a series of awards and fellowships that gave him more time for his poetry. He was a member of the faculty at Sarah Lawrence College from 1967 through 1971, and he helped found the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, in 1968. In 1985, he received an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Dugan gave many poetry readings, and after adjusting to his high voice and the purposely undramatic, cold presentation, audiences found that his style of reading fit the poems.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Born in Brooklyn in 1923, Alan Dugan (DEW-guhn) grew up in Brooklyn and in Queens. He attended elementary and high school in these boroughs and then enrolled in Queens College in 1941. However, he was drafted into the army two years later and served during World War II. Upon his discharge, he enrolled in Olivet College in Michigan, but he completed his B.A. in 1949 at Mexico City College in Mexico. After brief postgraduate study at Mexico City College, he returned to New York, where he spent most of the next ten years writing poetry while he supported himself with various short-lived jobs. His persistence was rewarded when his first major collection, Poems, was accepted for publication by the Yale Series of Younger Poets. This book, which appeared in 1961, introduced the fully mature poet to a mostly receptive audience.

Dugan never volunteered extensive biographical detail, so it is hard to explain the source of the caustic irony, the relentless self-castigation, and the whirling nihilism of his work. However, these characteristics define a world in which a mindless determinism controls things without and within, as in Mark Twain’s later works such as Letters from the Earth (1962) and The Mysterious Stranger (1916). In Dugan’s world, however bleak things may look, there is nowhere to go but down. That the poems are clever, even funny—some to the point of provoking loud laughter—is Dugan’s gift. These poems often have a tensely precise surface which allows glimpses through it to underpinnings of moral and philosophical chaos. The brilliance of their meteorlike metaphors charms the reader into at least partial acceptance of Dugan’s terrifying premises.

Dugan’s favorite targets were the well-worn and comfortable clichés by which people live. Antireligious and antiromantic, the poems depict a world in which the only...

(The entire section is 770 words.)