reflects this early experience of economic and social vulnerability. Dorn attended the University of Illinois from 1949 to 1950, then moved to North Carolina to attend the nontraditional arts-oriented Black Mountain College. Dorn completed a bachelor's degree in 1955. After leaving school he led a nomadic life, living in Washington's Skagis valley, New Mexico, and Idaho, at times barely supporting his family through manual labor, but all the while writing poetry. He taught at the University of Idaho from 1961-65, publishing his first book of poetry, The Newly Fallen, in 1961. As a Fulbright lecturer, Dorn was in residence at the newly founded University of Essex for most of 1965-70 and, while there, wrote the first book of Gunslinger, which expanded to five parts from 1968 to 1975. Dorn then taught at universities from Illinois to California before settling at the University of Colorado in 1977, where he headed the creative writing program until his death. His Collected Poems: 1956-1974 was published in 1975.
Dorn wrote a loosely structured free verse, the lines shaped to amplify the content of each poem, a style influenced by Olson's "Projective verse" (see ARS POETICAS). Irregular metrics and frequent enjambment give an asymmetrical rhythm and dissonant quality to the poems and are used to provoke surprise and humor. Lengths of poems range from epigrammic to entire books, with the poetry's tone alternately vulnerable, caustically critical, sensitively attentive, and parodic, sometimes changing abruptly within works. Dorn's creative diction, employing references to popular culture, philosophical theory, historical figures, archaic cultures, nonsense words, and drug and other jargons, produced striking juxtapositions and combinations of words; Dorn himself characterized his writing as coming in "clots of phrase" (5). Puns, internal rhyme, and unusual and ambiguous uses of punctuation also are typical of his poetry.
In "On the Debt My Mother Owed to Sears Roebuck" from Hands Up! (1964), a poem of place as well as personal and political implications, Dorn connects domestic economies to those of the Second World War. Arrested opportunity and unwitting complicity are suggested in Dorn's description of his mother as "part of that stay at home army," one who necessarily but unknowingly kept "things going, owing that debt." Internal rhyme, colloquial diction, and the use of italics to emphasize ironically a phrase borrowed from wartime propaganda are used in fashioning a pointed but accessible poem of both personal and social commentary. "An Idle visitation" from The North Atlantic Turbine (1967) first introduced the character of the Gunslinger, later expanded into what became Dorn's best-known poem. Dorn's capsule description of the Gunslinger's "impeccable personal smoothness" implies the satirically heroic, prototypical individualist of the mythical American West. Punning humor is brought about by enjambment in the lines—for instance, "or simply a retinal block / of seats"—and is intertwined with the thematic concern of the difficulty of perceiving reality, creating a tonal and formal instability characteristic of the poem and its later expansion to a book-length work. "Christopher Beach" characterizes Dorn's more playful and difficult style, with its shifting perspectives and evasion of fixed meaning, as a "dissolving of voices" that signals Dorn's movement towards a more postmodern style of writing (215).
In later works Dorn often wrote in a caustic, bitterly humorous, satirical style. In "Homo Sap" from Abhor-rences (1990), Ronald Reagan is dubbed "the great Teller," and the national obsession with youth is castigated as one of a number of vacuous "life-style frauds" in "Ode of the Facelifting of the 'statue' of Liberty." And in one of his last poems, "Chemo du Jour: The Impeachment on Decadron" (1999), Dorn mixed his experience of treatment for pancreatic cancer with a critique of the Clinton presidency, assuming the role of poet as cultural commentator until his death. It was this role that defined Dorn's life and poetry.
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