Authors: Norman Dubie

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American poet

Author Works


The Horsehair Sofa, 1969

Alehouse Sonnets, 1971

The Prayers of the North American Martyrs, 1975

Popham of the New Song, and Other Poems, 1975

In the Dead of the Night, 1975

The Illustrations, 1977

A Thousand Little Things, and Other Poems, 1978

Odalisque in White: Two Poems, 1978

The City of the Olesha Fruit, 1979

The Everlastings, 1980

The Window in the Field, 1981

Selected and New Poems, 1983

The Springhouse, 1986

Groom Falconer, Poems by Norman Dubie, 1989

The Clouds of Magellan, 1991

Radio Sky, 1991

The Mercy Seat: Collected and New Poems, 1967-2001, 2001


Norman Evans Dubie, Jr., was born the son of Norman Dubie, Sr., a clergyman, and Doris, a registered nurse. He was educated at Goddard College and the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop, where he subsequently lectured. He also taught as an assistant professor of English at Ohio University. In 1975, he went to Arizona State University as writer-in-residence and became professor of English and director of the school’s graduate writing program. Dubie first married Francesca Stafford, by whom he had one child. In 1975, he married the poet Pamela Stewart; they were divorced in 1980. In 1981, Dubie married Jeannine Savard.{$I[AN]9810001959}{$I[A]Dubie, Norman}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Dubie, Norman}{$I[tim]1945;Dubie, Norman}

Norman Dubie

(© Chris Pickler)

Dubie, who characterizes himself as having no politics and some religion, claims that he decided to become a poet when he was eleven years old. He credits the decision primarily to a teacher who read great literature aloud. He attributes his fascination with the past to his father’s large library.

Dubie is noted for his dramatic monologues, which involve famous literary or artistic figures placed in tableaux that form panoramas of their eras. Unlike Robert Browning, however, Dubie blurs the line between the historical and the imaginative. This blending results in a dreamlike quality, which produces visionary poetry at its best and confusion at its worst. Dubie’s narrative self-effacement distances the reader from the speaker. This poetic “objectivity” is misleading, for one eventually realizes that it is the poet’s consciousness through which the historical or literary figures and their times and places are being filtered. The sense of poetic objectivity and the subsequent discovery of its illusion represents Dubie’s complex verse and vision.

Dubie’s poetic distance has been both praised and criticized. Some critics find Dubie’s distance cold, even callous. This obliteration of self, although alienating to some, is considered by others to be indispensable to the poetry’s dreamlike quality and a major influence in creating the shared consciousness of the poem, which seems to be a transpersonal voice.

Dubie’s vision is also multifaceted, a vision of correspondences that point not to moral lessons but spiritual footprints. Dubie’s poems often treat the moments after disaster and try to transform death’s horror into art. His attempt to transmute terror into beauty is saved from cliché by his poetry’s direct confrontation of moments of crisis.

Unlike Browning, Dubie does not concern himself with the psychology of the historical characters in his dramatic monologues. Instead, Dubie locates the selves of famous persons such as William Hazlitt, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Herman Melville by an accumulation of detail from their eras; the imagined selves then move in the imagined contexts. Some readers feel bogged down in the detail, while others believe the minute attention paid to surface details adds to the poetry’s narrative power.

One of Dubie’s poetic preoccupations is the intrusion of imagination or subjectivity upon reality. Dubie’s poems often ask questions of history: What is primitive, what is civilized, and how does the one supersede the other? Like most romantic poets, Dubie privileges the intuitive response over the literary. He veers from the philosophical into the mystical; his poems range from asking the place of the will in the natural world to perceiving a spiritual light, a perception that depends on recognizing other worlds beyond the natural one. This spiritual vision is particularly apparent in “Revelations” and in “Elegies for the Ochre Deer on the Walls at Lascaux.”

Selected and New Poems, The Springhouse, and Radio Sky add to his painterly veneration of the past. Selected and New Poems includes historical dramatic monologues but also contains quiet lyrics. Unlike Dubie’s earliest work, in which the self is obliterated, his later poems include some deeply personal pieces such as “At Midsummer” and “A Grandfather’s Last Letter,” both written in a natural and simple voice.

The Springhouse and Radio Sky illustrate Dubie’s virtuosity in alternating tender lyrics with poems about violence, compressed images with prosy lines and unexpected rhymes. The Springhouse reveals Dubie’s belief that compassion saves, whereas knowledge and reason fail; ultimately, the imagination is an act of compassion. Radio Sky contains strictly historical poems, poems that blur the historical and the imaginative, and poems permeated with spirituality. The 2001 collection The Mercy Seat combines twenty-one new poems with numerous poems from his previous books, many of which had gone out of print.

Critics concur that Dubie’s work is important because of his painterly narratives and because of his innovative style, which both instructs and frees readers from conventional methods of poetic analyses. This liberation and his wide poetic range mark him as one of the century’s major postmodernists.

BibliographyAnderson, Jon. “On Norman Dubie’s Poems.” The Iowa Review 3 (Fall, 1973): 65-67. This article offers a reading of Dubie’s work on two levels: the empathetic, which results from the poet’s attempt at communication, and the aesthetic, which is the reader’s personal judgment. Anderson’s interpretation utilizes both sensibilities, although the latter is clearly favored in his examination of Alehouse Sonnets, “The Dugouts,” and “Northwind Escarpment,” among others.Clark, Kevin. “Synchronous Isolations: ‘Elegies for the Ocher Deer on the Walls at Lascaux’ by Norman Dubie.” American Poetry 5, no. 2 (Winter, 1988): 12-32. Clark draws upon the concepts of Carl Jung, Albert Einstein, and Søren Kierkegaard to illuminate Dubie’s vision and technique in this important long poem. This is an exemplary study, its methodology applicable to much of Dubie’s work.Leavitt, Michele. “Dubie’s ‘Amen.’” The Explicator 56, no. 1 (Fall, 1997): 55-56. A close reading reveals Dubie’s technique of multiple juxtapositions that create provocative but incomplete analogies. The poem insists that by evading responsibility for brutality, human beings inevitably come to share it.Raab, Lawrence. “Illustrations and Illuminations: On Norman Dubie.” The American Poetry Review 7 (July/August, 1978): 17-21. Raab examines the amalgamation of time periods and subjects in Dubie’s poetry–from Greek mythology to Victorian England and Ovid to Nicholas I–and explores Dubie’s methods of arguing and instructing his characters. Perhaps Raab’s most valuable and insightful observation of Dubie’s work concludes that his poetry is about the “little things,” which, when seen clearly, appear large.St. John, David. “A Generous Salvation: The Poetry of Norman Dubie.” The American Poetry Review 13 (September/October, 1984): 17-21. St. John uses the collection of Dubie’s poems Selected and New Poems as a jumping-off point for an examination of the poet’s major themes, including a fascination with the living and dead, personal and historical realities, and the principle of “release.” St. John assists the reader by publishing the full text of the poems discussed.Slattery, William. “My Dubious Calculus.” Antioch Review 52, no. 1 (Winter, 1994): 132-140. At once sarcastic and cautiously admiring, Slattery questions the value of perceived ambiguities and opacities in Dubie’s style. Slattery discusses the structure of each volume in Dubie’s “trilogy” (Springhouse, Groom Falconer, and Radio Sky), commenting on the lack of neat resolutions and the way in which Dubie’s images suggest unforgettable stories about people in desperate situations.Wojahn, David. “Recent Poetry.” Western Humanities Review 38 (August, 1984): 269-273. Wojahn explores the transition of Dubie’s style as it becomes more subdued and lyrical in his work Selected and New Poems. Because this process was then incomplete, the value of Wojahn’s article lies in its careful and evocative examination of Dubie’s early style with its dramatic monologues, extreme situations, and idiosyncratic syntax.Young, David. “Out Beyond Rhetoric.” Contemporary Poetry and Poetics 30 (Spring, 1984): 83-102. The career and work of Dubie are carefully and thoroughly examined in this ambitious assessment of the poet’s life, themes, and expression of his ideas, which can range from the difficult to the nearly incomprehensible. This important and insightful examination is worthy reading for the Dubie scholar and enthusiast alike.
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