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Poems Seven : New and Complete Poetry
This monumental collection tracks a forty-year career of honest, tough artistry, and shows an eighty-year-old at the height of his poetic power, affirming with renewed vigor that art is a grounded practice with no room for pretension.
Dugan's 1961 Poems (that year's Yale Younger Poets winner) turned much of the poetry establishment on its ear: Dugan's irreverent or cynical poems, full of horse sense and completely resistant to gloss, spoke to a community of readers soured on old forms and unattached to new ones. A celebration of spring showed how "the skunk cabbage generates its/ frost-thawing fart-gas in New Jersey and the first/ crocuses appear..." Other poems attacked America's growing involvement in Vietnam, and still others treated sex in memorably, newly flippant ways: "In spring when the ego arose from the genitals/ after a winter's refrigeration, the sergeants/ were angry..." Subsequent books (Poems Two, Poems Three and so on) continued Dugan's project of comic, bleak and formally varied commentary on a dirty, terminally frayed and yet attractive America. Yet Dugan remained aloof from the academy; as a result, his profile gradually dimmed, though he retained an enthused (and amused) core of fans, among them ex-Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky. This carefully constructed, funny and sometimes unvarying volume combines all six of Dugan's previous books with a decade's worth of new verse. One of the best of the new poems finds a domestic urgency: "Don't walk barefoot in the bathroom," it advises; "There was someone in the mirror who I killed." "You'll find in my Collected Poems," another new poem explains, "the palliative answer/ to your stupid questions": many readers just might, and the book's nomination as a National Book Award finalist should bring more of them to it.
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Seven Stories Press
June 30, 2003
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