Back to Issue 43_44
Back to Front Page
Shabdaguchha: Logo
Issue 43/44 : January - June, 2009 : Volume 11 No 3/4

Remembering Robert Dunn

D. H. Melhem

Robert Dunn: A Tribute

In writing of Robert Dunn, Stanley Barkan quotes the philosopher Hillel, observing that Robert was “more for others than he was for himself.” The comment epitomizes our beloved, quirky, brilliant, much-missed friend. We had planned to eat together in December, at a diner across the street from me since my feet were problematic. He had no hesitation about traveling from Queens for our meeting. Since hearing the terrible news, I’ve imagined asking him, “Robert, what was there for you? After all the friends, the family, the caregiving, the job, the magazine, the editorial responsibilities, hosting the reading series, what was there, dear Robert, just for you?”
Having presented himself as an “alleged poet” in the introduction to his last book, The Sap Songbook, parodies of popular songs, he closes with a bio I’ll quote in part. In his mischievous, self-effacing way, he begins, “About the Awful . . . Sorry, I mean the Author.” After mentioning an impressive number of credits—education, degrees in Graphic Design and an M.A. in English from Queens College, publication in over 200 magazines throughout the world, he ends on this wistful, typically self-dismissive note: “In ancient folklore, there is a story about how, in every generation, there are 36 individuals whose very existence persuades the Almighty not to destroy the world. Among these individuals, Robert Dunn is definitely #37.”
Years ago, when I was doing scholarly studies of Black poets, I saw how difficult it was to gain recognition for work that was different or that had no easy category to fit into. So I made up my own categories and gained critical attention for the poets I wrote about. Robert was his own category. I always appreciated him—and I’m glad he knew it. His humor had range—so-called “light verse” that could turn dark, from “funny ha-ha” to “funny-ouch.” Painfully aware of the narrowness that denied him a place at the table reserved for “serious” poets, he made a place for himself via his own magazines and a spectrum of little magazines. Robert was a hero—of the Greater New York poetry scene—which is how I view anyone who regularly runs a reading series. His historical sense led him to record videos of the poets he presented.
Robert Dunn made us think, and laugh, and in leaving us suddenly, he made us cry. I hope he understood how much he meant to us. I like to think that he did. He could turn even this most sentimental occasion1 into an ironic quip we could all laugh at, together. He would have wanted to give us that last gift of wit, lifting our spirits, reminding that he would stick around in some form, kibitzing over our shoulders, urging us to submit to Asbestos (“as best as we can”), to attend the next reading, and the next. And the next one after that. Wherever it might be held.

Poetry for Dunn:

Cliff Bleidner

Four Poets Have Lunch

Her poems were almost always sad
His poems were almost always funny
Her poems were literary and scholarly
And me different from the above three
I am very versatile
You never know what you are going to hear

We went to a diner after a poetry reading
Like four poets normally would
We talked about a lot of stuff
I can't remember what
It doesn't matter anyway

I enjoyed being with three equals that day
We were all movers and shakers in our own way
We all had a definite mission in life
Very dedicated very driven very poetic
There was laughter good wishes
And good cheer exchanged

There were the familiar handshakes, kisses
And goodbye wishes in the parking lot
And you know, you never know
The last time you see someone
I take this time to say goodbye
And thank you Robert Dunn

J R Turek

Poetry Wives

Respected, admired, fawned over
by your harem of poetry wives
with hugs and kisses the moment you arrived
at poetry events all over our Island.

Make 'em laugh your purpose-driven
poetry motto; no sexual innuendo,
no sensual purple prose from your pen,
no evocative unmentionables
to make your audience swoon with passion,

yet passion echoes from your work,
your labors create serious chuckles
from sensibly nonsensical subjects;
your I dare you to write one invented forms
are just a part of your legacy: poet, mentor, friend.
Smiles, handshakes, shoulder pats from men
envious of the maternalesque attention
you so often got, so adored; no hanky-panky,
no seduction, no implications of anything
but sincere vows of devotion.

You made your mark on the poetry world--
with you bulging backpack,
in your ever-present hat and sneakers
and the purple-striped shirt I so love,
you live on every time I hear laughter.

How I miss you, Robert--
though I cannot hug you, cannot imprint
my painted lips on your cheek,
I remain, as always, just one of the harem
of your poetry wives.

Shabdaguchha, an International Bilingual Poetry Journal, edited by Hassanal Abdullah