Tim Dlugos (1950-1990)
Tim Dlugos (born Francis Timothy Dlugos) (August 5, 1950 – December 3, 1990) was an American poet. Early in his career, Dlugos was celebrated for his energetic, openly gay, pop culture-infused poems. Later, he became widely known for the poems he wrote as he was dying of AIDS.
Tim Dlugos was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, and raised by adopted parents in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, and Arlington, Virginia. In 1968, he joined the Christian Brothers, a Catholic religious order, and entered their college, La Salle College, in Philadelphia, the following year. At La Salle, Dlugos became involved in the anti-Vietnam War movement and started writing poetry. He left the Brothers in 1971 to openly embrace a politically active, gay lifestyle. Less and less motivated by academic life, he dropped out of La Salle in his senior year, eventually moving to Washington, D.C.
Dlugos immersed himself in the Mass Transit poetry scene in Washington, regularly attending readings at the Community Book Shop in Dupont Circle. His friends during this period included Ed Cox, Tina Darragh, Michael Lally, Bernard Welt, and Terence Winch. His first chapbook, High There, was published by Some of Us Press in 1973. Dlugos worked on Ralph Nader‘s Public Citizen newspaper, which led to a successful career as a fundraising consultant and copywriter for liberal and charitable organizations.
In 1976, Dlugos moved to Manhattan, where he became a prominent younger poet in the downtown literary scene centered around the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church. His poems were praised for their innovation and wit, their appropriation of popular culture (as in his crowd-pleasing “Gilligan’s Island”), and their openly gay subject matter. Dlugos’s friends during his New York years included Joe Brainard, Donald Britton, Jane DeLynn, Brad Gooch, and Eileen Myles. In 1977, he began a correspondence and friendship with Dennis Cooper, then based in Los Angeles. Dlugos published two books with Cooper’s Little Caesar Press: Je Suis Ein Americano (1979) and Entre Nous (1982). Of the latter, critic Marjorie Perloff wrote, “This is poetry of extraordinary speed and energy that fuses fact and fantasy, dream and documentary. Tim Dlugos’ every nerve seems to vibrate.” Dlugos also edited and contributed to such magazines as Christopher Street, New York Native, and The Poetry Project Newsletter.
Dlugos tested positive for HIV in 1987, and was diagnosed with AIDS in 1989. In 1988, he moved to New Haven, Connecticut, where he was enrolled in Yale Divinity School. His intention was to become a priest in the Episcopal Church. He died of complications due to AIDS on December 3, 1990, at the age of forty.
Dlugos is widely known for the poems he wrote while hospitalized in G-9, the AIDS ward at Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan, and is considered a seminal poet of the AIDS epidemic. His long poem “G-9,” in which Dlugos celebrates life while accepting his mortality and impending death, was published in The Paris Review only months before Dlugos died.
In 2011, “At Moments Like These He Feels Farthest Away,” an exhibition of paintings by artist Philip Monaghan based on Dlugos’s poem “Gilligan’s Island,” was held at Fales Library at New York University, where Dlugos’s literary papers are archived.
Dlugos died of AIDS in 1990, leaving behind a body of what might be called second New York school verse. Like first New York school masters James Schuyler, John Ashbery, and Frank O’Hara, Dlugos took the everyday life of an urban aesthete–himself–as his subject and made it everyman’s life. You don’t have to be gay or share his pop-culture knowledge to sympathize with him, especially in this selection, which amounts to an autobiography. Dlugos first appears as a witty, sexy, poverty-stricken young literary intellectual; modulates into a more reflective, moderately wistful person as his youthful attractiveness fades; and becomes, despite this volume’s title, which Dlugos chose, a powerful reporter-poet after he is diagnosed with AIDS and endures hospitalization. There is nothing “in-your-face,” however, about the AIDS poems or any of the others. Rather, there is an appealing, intelligent, earnest personality in them, one strong enough, perhaps, to lend Powerless a life longer than those of most gay men’s memoirs in prose. –Ray Olson
There’s more to Dlugos than his posthumous legend suggests—and yet the legend is reason enough to revisit his work. No story of gay American poetry would be complete without an account of his urbane, openhearted, and various works, admired before and after the poet’s death from AIDS in 1990. He’s sometimes remembered as a hip New Yorker, a link between uptown and downtown scenes, whose poems amble unguardedly, first winningly, and then hauntingly, through the days and nights of his life: “it was more fun,” one late poem muses, “before I knew/ my poetry could never be a spaceship/ to speed me far away.” Those earthbound poems also record, by name, his links to other poetic lights: Bernadette Mayer, Eileen Myles, David Kalstone. Some of them fall between meditations and rambles, unspooling his thoughts through several pages of free verse or boxy prose. Yet Dlugos did at least as well with his shorter poems, written in Washington, D.C., in the 1970s as well as in New York in the 1980s; in them, he was very much out of the closet, attentive more to feeling than to narrative, and delighted to put the legacy of Frank O’Hara to compact and beautiful use, as in “The Steven Hamilton Sestina,” tricky or ingenuous sonnets, the airy poem of infatuation entitled “Lunch with Paul,” or the anthology-worthy “American Baseball.” This ambitious collection, with Trinidad’s foreword and chronology, might elevate from cult status a poet who did much more than respond to his times.
The publication of Tim Dlugos’s collected poems should invite a reassessment of his work as that of an important American poet of the late 20th century. This is true because there are several major poems here that cannot be ignored…
The lightly enforced trimeter and the single glance of rhyme create in these lines the very sense of fitful gentleness that they request, and as one reads from the nervous posing of the early poems to the ease of the later work, the history of Tim Dlugos’s poetry appears as a gradual accession to grace. In the final poem of the volume, Dlugos declares himself “D.O.A.” His readers will be apt to disagree.
In the past decade, there have been a number of critical additions to, and clarifications of, the twentieth-century avant-garde canon. Consider, for instance, the recent emergence (or rather reemergence and resurgence) of Ted Berrigan, John Wieners, and Ed Dorn. It’s time to add the name of Tim Dlugos (1950-1990) to this roster of archival resurrections. Dlugos’ Collected charts the artistic output of a singular talent most commonly associated with New York City—in whose literary scene he was ubiquitous from 1978 to 1990—who in fact wrote his best poems as a recently-out college student in Philadelphia in the early 1970s. This early work is that of a young man still coming to terms with his sexuality and politics; there is a gentle, tentative longing here that would border on the saccharine were the poet not so evidently and deeply invested in every line. Indeed, Dlugos offers us some of the most touching and earnest work ever associated with any wave of the New York School. The poet may have self-identified as “part of the nostalgia craze,” and certainly there’s more than a hint of the sentimental in many of these poems, but it’s also true that no understanding of American poetry in the seventies or eighties would be complete without some exposure to, and appreciation of, these highly personal—and yet also highly political—lyric poems.
What is this beautiful and brilliant body of poetry about? In what you could call Dlugos’s manifesto–“About My Work” dated April 10th 1975–item number one is: “I try to write out of the time and space I find myself in.” It is such a joy to read these poems which chronicle a time and a number of places most vividly, but mostly there’s the pleasure of reading artful poems that embrace you with love and deep feeling.
- High There (Some of Us Press, 1973)
- For Years (Jawbone, 1977)
- Je Suis Ein Americano (Little Caesar Press, 1979)
- A Fast Life (Sherwood Press, 1982)
- Entre Nous (Little Caesar Press, 1982)
- Strong Place (Amethyst Press, 1992)
- Powerless: Selected Poems 1973-1990 (edited by David Trinidad; High Risk Books/Serpent’s Tail, 1996)
- A Fast Life: The Collected Poems of Tim Dlugos (edited by David Trinidad; Nightboat Books, 2011)