Last winter I became aware of the writing of Stephen Dunn through an article in the December 2013 issue of The Writer’s Chronicle. Andrea Hollander wrote a piece about him called “Stephen Dunn, The Ice Traveler, and the Other.” I was drawn to what Hollander wrote about Dunn’s use of persona, abstract language, and wisdom lines in his poetry. She described him as a "philosopher poet." All this made me want to know more and so I got a copy of Dunn’s What Goes On: Selected Poems 1995-2009.
While there is much worth noting here from his work on those pages, I want to shine the light on a poem called “Everything Else in the World.” The poem’s narrator is young, in Manhattan, and looking for a job.
It’s a poem about work and so much more.
An excerpt from “Everything Else in the World” by Stephen Dunn:
Nickels and dimes could make
a middleman disappear, easy as that,
no big deal, a life or two
destroyed, others improved.
But I wasn’t afraid of capitalism.
All I wanted was a job like a book
so good I’d be finishing it
for the rest of my life.
Had my education failed me?
I felt a hankering for the sublime,
its dangerous subversions
of the daily grind.
Oh I took a dull, well-paying job.
History major? the interviewer said, I think
you might be good at designing brochures.
I was. Which filled me with desire
for almost everything else in the world.
I love the line about wanting a job like a book to finish for the rest of your life. I love the line about having a hankering for the sublime, that ending in which eyes are opened to the world.