Nationality: American. Born: Brooklyn, New York, 12 February 1923. Education: Queens College, New York; Olivet College, Michigan; Mexico City College, B.A. 1951. Military Service: U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. Family: Married to Judith Shahn. Career: Worked in advertising, publishing, and for a medical supply company; taught at Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York, 1967–71. Since 1971 staff member for poetry, Fine Arts Work Center, Provincetown, Massachusetts. Awards: Yale Series of Younger Poets award, 1961; Pulitzer Prize, 1962; National Book award, 1962; American Academy in Rome fellowship, 1962; Guggenheim fellowship, 1963, 1972; Rockefeller fellowship, 1966; Levinson prize (Poetry, Chicago), 1967; Shelley memorial award, 1982; Melville Cane award, 1984; American Academy award, 1985. Address: c/o Ecco Press, 26 West 17th Street, New York, New York 10011, U.S.A.
General Prothalamion in Populous Times. Privately printed, 1961.
Poems 3. New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Press, 1967.
Collected Poems. New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Press, 1969; London, Faber, 1970.
Poems 4. Boston, Little Brown, 1974.
Sequence. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Dolphin, 1976.
New and Collected Poems 1961–1983. New York, Ecco Press, 1983.
Poems 6. New York, Ecco Press, 1989.*
Critical Studies: Interview with Michael Ryan, in Iowa Review (Iowa City, Iowa), 4(3), 1973; "Alan Dugan: The Poetry of Survival" by Robert Boyers, in his Contemporary Poetry in America: Essays and Interviews, New York, Schocken, 1974; "Christian Symbology in Alan Dugan's 'Morning Song,'" by Wayne McGinnis, in Nassau Review (Garden City, New York), 3(3), 1977; by David Wojahn, in Western Humanities Review (Salt Lake City, Utah), 38(3), autumn 1984; "'Pieces of Harmony': The Quiet Politics of Alan Dugan's Poetry" by John Gery, in Politics and the Muse: Studies in the Politics of Recent American Literature, edited by Adam J. Sorkin, Bowling Green, Popular, 1989.* * *
Alan Dugan is a fine poet who has created a significant body of work while cultivating a confining style and exercising his caustic intelligence on a relatively narrow range of subjects. Though few critics get terribly excited about his work, most concede that it successfully inhabits the middle ground of experience that our best contemporary poets seem too loathe to admit. In Dugan, at least, if one is able to hope at all, one hopes to endure rather than to triumph. If one feels trapped, one will strive not for ultimate freedom and total independence but for the sensation of freedom—temporary, imperfect, illusory. Dugan's spirit is best expressed in the conditional, which is to say that nothing he feels or thinks is very far removed from regret for what might have been. It has been generally accepted that Dugan is something of a moralist, if we understand a moralist to be someone who experiences convulsive fits of nausea whenever he remembers what he is and to what he has given his approval, if only by means of undisturbed acquiescence.
Dugan's is an intensely private, almost a claustrophobic, vision. His poems usually communicate small perceptions appropriate to the lives of small people, so that we listen not because of any glittering eye but because we feel we should. The voice that apprehends us is as earnest as any we might hope to encounter, and the combination of brittle surfaces and an underlying warmth is relentlessly imposing.
Dugan's poems have variety, but they might all be drawn together as a single long poem. The same alert but static sensibility is operant in all of them, and the speaker rarely indulges the sort of emotional extremism that might distinguish his more inspired from his more characteristically quotidian utterances. Particulars in the work are easily reducible to an elementary abstraction in which polarities are anxiously opposed until, under the wry focus of Dugan's imagination, they somehow coalesce. Alternatives become merely matters of perspective, and the wise man gradually learns that, as between one choice and another, we had best avoid choices altogether.
The predictable, low-keyed humor does little to mitigate the stinging venom of self-contempt that courses through so much of Dugan's work. His is a bitter eloquence. If the cadence is austere, it is rarely impoverished, and the muscular flow of his terse diction is rarely purchased at the expense of complexity. Dugan invites us to witness with him, without any redemptive qualification, the sordid spectacle of our common humiliation. It is a strangely unimpassioned witnessing, but the amusement of ironic detachment has much to recommend it. What Dugan fears most is the neutrality that predicts the death of the spirit, but more and more it appears to him that this is, indeed, his most authentic reality.