A Poem in My News Feed: Alan Dugan

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Before I talk about the poem that Slate featured this week in their online magazine, I wanted to address something that Dr. Jackie White pointed out in her comment on last week’s poem from Slate. Dr. White, for those of you who don’t know, is the chair of the English Department at Lewis University. On last week’s post, Dr. White mentioned that it’s quite natural for poetry and politics to be linked, and she mentioned poems throughout history that are very closely linked to political movements.  Dr. White has an excellent point here, one that I neglected to pick up on in my post, and I just wanted to mention it. I urge you to go and read her comment because she gives some great examples of poetry and political movements intertwining.

The poem featured this week by Slate, the online magazine, is entitled “On Finding Bloodstains in My Notebook After a Bad Party,” by Alan Dugan. Alan Dugan wrote many books of poetry in his lifetime and won several awards including the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Dugan passed away in 2003.

Because Dugan is no longer with us, his poem is read by Robert Pinsky, who served as the United States poet laureate from 1997 to 2000.

Upon reading simply the title of the poem, I called up images of a dinner party’s aftermath, with scrawled words on a notebook page and spilled drinks in the dining room. The actual poem, however, presents a very different image. As I read the poem, I picked up on many nautical images such as mariners, knives, maps, the sea, and islands. It’s interesting to me that the title made me think one thing, and the poem itself made me think something completely different.

Since the poem is read by Pinsky, and not Dugan, the original author, this brings up the question of whether it is as “pure” as a reading from Dugan himself. Last week, Slate showcased a piece by Paul Breslin and Breslin read the poem himself, so he knew all the nuances and pauses and what they meant. If a person other than the author reads a poem aloud, can we be getting the full effect?

Perhaps not, but I would argue that we’re getting an even more interesting reading. Authors may not like the poem in question, they may wish they could go back and change it, they may be critical even as they’re reading it. A second party reader, however, is reading the poem just as we, the audience, would read it. Perhaps this second party reader adores the poem and doesn’t care if it has faults that only the author would pay attention to it. When a second party reads an author’s poem aloud, we get the same kind of reading that we would get if we were simply sitting down to read it ourselves.

Which do you prefer: a poem read by the author himself (or herself), or a poem read by someone else? Which do you think offers the most beneficial interpretation of the piece? Also, what do you think is the connection between poems and their titles? Leave your opinions in the comments!

— Honeycomb Editor, Mary Egan

3 thoughts on “A Poem in My News Feed: Alan Dugan

  1. Lucas October 12, 2010 / 8:05 pm

    I don’t think I could choose a preference as to which I like better, poems read by their authors, or poems read by other performers. Your line about how when a poet reads their own work out loud, they sometimes create auditory edits and the poem changes form, really speaks to me as it is something which I’ve experienced myself on numerous occasions. More than likely it comes about from my editing process where I read it aloud to see if I like the way it sounds, catch what I assume to be the errors on the page and then edit it automatically. But I like how dynamic that makes poetry! On the other hand poetry read by a performer can really capture the amount of appreciation a person has for a piece of poetry.

    • Editor October 12, 2010 / 8:16 pm

      I agree — as I was writing about each perspective, I was thinking that they’re both appealing to me in a “poetry reading” setting. But I do think a reading by the author is still susceptible to editing on-the-spot, like you said. That’s a great point that the editing while reading is just part of the dynamic nature of poetry, I like that.

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