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Dugan's Double Play
Famed Poet Earns Second National Book Award in 40 Years

ListenListen to National Book Award winner Alan Dugan's conversation with Linda Wertheimer.

Listen Listen to Dugan recite his poem "Closing Time at the Second Avenue Deli".

Cover of Alan Dugan's Poems Seven

Cover for Dugan's latest book, Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry
Photo: Seven Stories Press

Listen Listen to Dugan recite his poem "Closing Time at the Second Avenue Deli" at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.

Nov. 15, 2001 -- It’s been 40 years since Alan Dugan burst on the poetry scene with his first collection, titled simply Poems. The book, first published in 1961, gave Dugan the status of something akin to the “Rookie of the Year” -- he won the Yale Younger Poets Prize that year, and the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1962.

On Wednesday night, Dugan won the National Book Award for poetry again -- this time, for his collection Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry. The book features 35 new poems.

Dugan has published at least nine other books of poetry, either collections or new works, in the ensuing four decades. Critics have lauded Dugan’s bluntness, and his comic timing. But there is also a deep sense of alienation in his work, critics say, and an undercurrent of dissatisfaction and disappointment in the way life works -- and his merciless critical eye is often focused on those who live lives of ignorance.

But Dugan can be whimsical, too. When he reads his poems out loud to an audience, the words have an ironic tone, as if to blunt the harder edges of his undercurrent of scorn. And critics have applauded the body of Dugan’s work for the writer’s belief in the honor and sanity at the core of the human experience.

"You can’t say poetry should be about something or shouldn't be about something. Poems are, the poem is, and that is all there is to it."

Alan Dugan

Dugan himself, speaking to All Things Considered host Linda Wertheimer, hinted that all the critics over the years may be putting too much thought into the meaning of the words -- and missing the words themselves: "You can’t say poetry should be about something or shouldn't be about something," he says. "Poems are, the poem is, and that is all there is to it."

With the success of his first book, Dugan began a career supported by grants, reading tours and residences in universities all over the world. His two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Rockefeller Foundation grant and the Prix de Rome from the American Academy of Arts and Letters have allowed him to live in Paris, Rome, Mexico and South America. Dugan currently lives in Truro, Mass., and is married to painter and printmaker Judith Shahn.

Search for more broadcast coverage on poets and poetry.

Other Resources

Seven Stories Press, publisher of Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry

Guggenheim Fellowships information site, with a list of past fellows beginning in 1925

Rockefeller Foundation Web site

Poetry.com