Plague of Dead Sharks, by Alan Dugan

Most people these days think poetry is shite.

Certainly our glorious educational system generates a vast supply of Soviet toilet paper, coarse on the tenders and stamped with pure nothing. Certainly our glorious publishing industry seems to delight – I’m thinking primarily of the New Yorker – in selecting the blandest and most vapid plums from this great brown smorgasbord, and presenting them to the educated elite as though they were offering a silver bowl of egg-sized pearls to the Shah of Iran.

In fact there is just as much good poetry from the late 20th century as from any other period. Possibly even more. It’s just extremely difficult to find. If anyone has any pointers, please don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments section!

Here’s a nice bit from a poem by Alan Dugan:

Plague of Dead Sharks

Who knows whether the sea heals or corrodes?
The wading, wintered pack-beasts of the feet
slough off, in spring, the dead rind of the shoes’
leather detention, the big toe’s yellow horn
shines with a natural polish, and the whole
person seems to profit. The opposite happens
when dead sharks wash up along the beach
for no known reason. What is more built
for winning than the swept-back teeth,
water-finished fins, and pure bad eyes
these old, efficient forms of appetite
are dressed in? Yet it looks as if the sea
digested what it wished of them with viral ease
and threw up what was left to stink and dry.

Now that’s some damned prosody for you. And Dugan, though I get the impression he was a bit of a Marxist (something no more objectionable in a poet than Christianity), is utterly free from the noxious Hallmark-hippie sentimentality, out of Whitman by M. Valdemar, dead for at least fifty years and reeking of committee, that fills your little magazines today. If you care at all for this sort of stuff he’s worth a gander.


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