MICHELE NORRIS, host:
For some, life moves too fast to linger on a poem, to appreciate its sounds and its rhythm. But for National Poetry Month, former poet laureate Robert Pinsky wants us to do just that. He is the latest voice in our series, You Must Read This, where authors talk about a book they love.
ROBERT PINSKY: Alan Dugan is an engaging and entertaining writer, but do not call him charming. Charm can be an obnoxious quality in writing, when you can tell that the writer is trying to be ingratiating.
Dugan, that amusing and engagingly nasty poet, sings the truth, often with a splash of high-grade vinegar, as in possibly his best-known poem, "How We Heard the Name."
(Reading) The river brought down dead horses, indicative of war or official acts upstream. Then a soldier on a log went by. Friends, he said, the great Battle of Granicus has just been won by all the Greeks except the Lacedaemonians and myself; this is a joke between me and a man named Alexander, whom all of you ba-bas will hear of as a god.
Dugan goes rapidly from plain American speech to the Battle of Granicus, the Lacedaemonians and that Alexander, who is in many places called the Great. I like the dirt-plain dead and the somewhat daffy ba-bas. The poem's scorn for euphemism, its horror at official violence also make it a humane artifact.
In another poem, "Plague of Dead Sharks," Dugan repeats twice a question that begins with the ordinary, two-syllable expression who knows: Who knows whether the sea heals or corrodes? What the sun burns up of it, the moon puts back.
In some complicated way, the ocean both heals and corrodes, and something like the same applies to the inebriated candor of a soldier floating down the terrible river of history. And it also applies to Alan Dugan's book, "Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry," astringent, corrosive, entertaining and full of life.
(Soundbite of music)
NORRIS: Robert Pinsky is the poetry editor at Slate. His new book, "Selected Poems," is out next week.