Dugan, Alan 1923-
DUGAN, Alan 1923-
ADDRESSES: Home—P.O. Box 97, Truro, Mass. 02666. Office—c/o Ecco Press, 26 West 17th Street, New York, NY, 10011.
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, member of the faculty, 1971—. Military service: Served in United States Army Air Forces during World War II.
AWARDS, HONORS: Award from Poetry magazine, 1946; Yale Series of Younger Poets Award, 1961; National Book Award, 1961, for Poems, and 2001, for Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry; Pulitzer Prize for poetry, 1962, for Poems, and 1967, for Poems 3; Rome fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1962-63; Guggenheim fellow, 1963-64; Rockefeller Foundation fellow, 1966-67; Levinson poetry prize from Poetry magazine, 1967; Shelley memorial award, 1982; Melville Cane award, 1984; American Academy award, 1985; National Book Award for poetry, for Poems Seven, 2001.
General Prothalamion in Populous Times, privately printed, 1961.
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.
SIDELIGHTS: 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 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 Littimore 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. Dris Lynch, who reviewed the book for Library Journal, asserted that Dugan brought "an intriguing and idiosyncratic vision to American poetry."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
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.
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 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.*