In 1973, the last American ground troops left Vietnam, the World Trade Center opened for business, the Watergate scandal rolled downhill, the IRA bombing campaign was in full swing. Agnew resigned. Allende was overthrown. And Doug Lang arrived in the U.S.
His arrival was historic—it changed my life, as it did the lives of his many friends, colleagues, and students over the past three decades. Doug came here from England, by way of Wales, where he is from. Specifically, the town of Swansea (also Dylan Thomas’s hometown).
[left to right: Michael Lally, Terence Winch, Doug Lang, Lynne Dreyer, at Folio Books in DC, ca. 1976]
I used to write Clerihews about my friends in the 1970s. Doug’s was:
likes to be one of the gang.
That’s why he talks funny and always wears a hat.
In Wales, everyone does that.
Doug has taught writing at the Corcoran School of Art since 1976. He is revered there, and elsewhere. His work is hard to characterize because he has succeeded at many kinds of writing on many different levels. Just before coming to this country, he published two novels, one pseudonymously. I think he told me that each took about six weeks to write. Today, they are extremely rare (though I seem to remember Ray DiPalma telling me he once came upon a stack of Freaks in a Manhattan bookstore).
We used to collaborate a lot in the old days. We wrote a sonnet sequence in the mid-1970s, which was never published, but to which we gave one of my all-time favorite titles: Take the Qua Train.
[photo below by Tom Orange]
Doug has written a great deal during his years in America, but has not published all that much. A big new collection of his writing is in the works, to be brought out by Edge Books, Rod Smith’s press here in DC. Meanwhile, Titanic Books published a collection of his poems called Magic Fire Chevrolet in 1980. I re-read MFC on the Metro today, and was knocked out anew at the intense energy and sheer force of the poems:
Charlie Green was a member of Fletcher Henderson’s
Orchestra, played trombone, cut 38 sides with Bessie
Smith, froze to death on the doorstep of a Harlem
Tenement during the depression. The snow keeps coming
Down. Well, let it come down. The city gets
Kind of white. Your body is cool.
I forget when I look in your face how far back.
Details, standing around. Everything goes out.
Face back. Heat eases
Up. Suspended. You bring wine, you talk. I like
To hear you talk, the way you talk.
I get nervous, anyway. Follow me up, through
The clocks, Mister B.
B for boss. The book I toss.
She who longs for the red hot songs of Robert Johnson.
And so the bread is baked by you now, maybe draw
Some beer & sit for hours, you had it spaced wrong.
Saturn a bromide & Irish cream & footsteps on Sullivan
Street & Burgundy from the mountains, the mountains
Of romance, talk to me. Fat chance.
Tight wire risk.
The onion & onion.
Umbrellas from you, all broken.
Drunk & stoned & crazy 3 in the morning phone ringing.
The most difficult a relationship
Of air & what is wrong.
Trying to remember where the wall is.
Margaret Johnson came in from Kansas City &
Played piano on one record date with Billie Holiday,
Buck Clayton, Dickie Wells, Lester Young,
Freddy Greene, Walter Page & Jo Jones.
& Lester Young said, “I have eyes & I can see.”
Magic Fire Chevrolet also includes one of Doug’s most popular poems, “The Americans,” which has always been a personal favorite of mine. I believe you will have a hard time finding MFC, but if you can lay your hands on it, it’s a brilliant book. In the meantime, check out two more recent poems of Doug’s on the McSweeney’s sestina site (read one of them; read the other one). And the new issue of Smartish Pace, the excellent Baltimore journal, includes a poem of Doug’s. Don't forget Doug Lang's own blog, but don't expect daily installments (click here). [photo below by Sandra Rottman]
“…The door held ajar by a 2-by-4, our
Bodies calm as rocks on a coastline at low tide, rhumba
Drums & another cup of coffee, a perfect blend
Of mass & rotation or distance & everybody’s asleep
As the earth and the other earth direct our attention
To an as-if experience”
[from “McDonald, PA”]