Rather than a Review of “Third”, here is the Introduction I was honored to write.
But for all the bad of which we're told
- “Good Over Evil” - Devin Dugan
When Devin Dugan asked me to write the introduction to his new poetry collection, Third, I felt some trepidation. I am a novelist, not a poet, and I prefer the uplifting works of Victorian and Romantic poets over many of our modern ones. Upon reading Devin’s poems, however, I found them to display a brave and independent voice. That they are lighthearted in their word play, and do not shy away from being optimistic makes me all the more appreciative of them. Interspersed among the poems are some dark thoughts and pessimistic lines, but overall, Devin avoids the artificial pose of poetic angst and despair by filling his work with a pervading sense that all is well.
The volume opens with “America 2109”, a grim portrait of a future America in a “Nazi-communistic” state. This poem sets the reader up to expect a dark pessimistic atmosphere throughout the collection, but in the following poems, one finds hope and humor are dominant. Upon a second reading, the first poem is an appropriate beginning because it does not mock the current world, but rather points out what may be if we are not careful, if we allow despair and wrong to dominate, if we deny man’s true individual greatness. The poems that succeed “America 2109” are predominantly lighter in tone, expressing the good that surrounds us but is often overlooked. The quote above from “Good Over Evil” I consider the real theme of this collection—we should focus on all that is good in life, and not give in to the negative or to let evil dominate our thoughts, for life and especially love can bring man to a state of greatness.
Devin Dugan is perhaps best known as a standup comedian. Comedy is abundant in these poems, yet it is a comedy that is richer than a standup comedian’s one-liners. It is the comedy that is the polar opposite of tragedy—the comedic affirmation of life. Despite several serious pieces, Third is most striking for its tender love poems, which never sink into sentimentality, but rather are heartfelt and raise the reader into a sense of the completion that love brings. The narrators find joy in the beauty of the women they love, and they rejoice in the very wonder and mystery of that love. The love poems approach the jubilant lightness of the seventeenth century cavalier poets and thankfully evade the school of metaphysical complex images.
What I most appreciate about Devin’s poems is their sincerity. Too many of our modern poets deluge us with floods of images one must wade through, sinking deeper and deeper into confusion as we try to make sense of strings of metaphors we cannot find the connection between. This confusion results from poets striving to prove they are clever, who think with their heads rather than their hearts, and thereby miss the truths of human experience. Devin’s poems are simpler yet all the more true because his voice is strongly his own in each work, rather than being the voice of some poetic predecessor he is trying to imitate to follow the dictates of literary critics. Poems such as “Nuts” are more like jokes with rhymes to make you smile. Other poems are simply straightforward and honest without relying on overwrought poetic conceits. Devin uses few poetic images, but when he does, he makes the reader wonder how such a perfect comparison has never been thought of before. My favorite line from the collection comes to mind here; the striking image is in the collection’s concluding poem, “Your Beloved Monster”:
The flow of adrenaline that love brings is exactly like the thrill of a gold strike. It is a perfect metaphor of the dreams and hopes that love brings to us. The image is strong because it is sincere, because one believes the speaker truly has been in love and experienced that rush of emotion he describes as a gold strike.
I am most struck by the poems’ optimistic theme of man’s greatness. Some of the poems depict that greatness as thwarted or lost, as in “The Heidi Conflict VI: Fifteen Minutes” when the lover misses his chance: “Fifteen minutes and I would have been king.” But while greatness is not always achieved, man’s ability to be noble is never questioned. Love is the dominant theme that leads to such greatness in the poems. In “Of Arc” love is the savior of the narrator. The most complex of these poems is “Kingdom Come Again”. Here, the speaker believes himself like a god or a king, but the everyday world intrudes so that he can only find his kingdom and happiness in a dream world. The poem shies away from despair, by suggesting that the dream world is the real one from which the speaker came and that death will release him back into his godlike state. Defeat is temporary, as in “Destruction Day Three” where everything is destroyed, yet “We begin again.”
Not only man, but the commonplace is treated as marvelous in these poems. The everyday has joy to be found in it: “Salvation doth come / in a cinnamon bun.” In “The Crumbs of a Once Great Empire”, the “half-remaining, flaky-crusted castle” is a half-eaten lemon loaf. This latter poem and the poems with references to kings reflect that Devin Dugan is also a writer of fantasy novels. Yet the poems remind us that we do not need to seek happiness and pleasure in a fantasy world. Devin’s poems show he is not an escapist, but rather a Romantic, one who sees the heroic and beautiful in the everyday world. His poems express the difficulties of life, the defeats we all experience, but they also affirm that the human spirit can carry on, to face whatever may come, with a heart full of hope that in the end, all shall be well.
- Tyler R. Tichelaar
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