Alan Dugan accepts the 2001 National Book Award in Poetry for Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry

November 2001

Acceptance Speech

Catgory

Against the Text “Art is Immortal”,
from Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry

All art is temporal. All art is lost.
Go to Egypt. Go look at the Sphinx.
It’s falling apart. He sits
on water in the desert and the water table shifts.
He has lost his toes to the sand-
blasts of the Saharan winds
of a mere few thousand years.
The Mamelukes shot up his face
because they were Iconoclasts,
because they were musketeers.
The British stole his beard
because they were imperialist thieves.
It’s in the cellar of the British Museum
where the Athenians lost their marbles.

And that City of Ideas
the Socrates once had in mind
has faded too, like the Parthenon
from car exhaust, and from
the filthiness of the Turks
who used it as a dump.
If that city ever was
for Real in public works
and not just words he said:
No things but in ideas.
No ideas but in things
I say as William Carlos Williams said,
things as the Sphinx is our thing,
a beast of a man made god
stoned into art to gaurd the dead
from nothing, nothing and vanishing
toes first in the desert,
sand-blasted off into nothing
by a few thousand years of air,
sand, take your pick, picker,
go to Egypt, go look
at the Sphinx while it lasts.
Art is not immortal.
Art is not mortal.
All art is ideas in things.
All art is temporal. All art is lost.
The imperial desert is moving in
with water, sand and wind
to wear the godly native beast of man apart
back to the nothing which sculpted him.

And remember the Mamelukes, remember the Brits.
They were the iconoclasts of their own times,
primitive musketeers, primitive chiselers. This time
we can really blas the beast of man to bits.

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