New York Diary – Tim Dlugos, Ed., David Trinidad. Review by Dale Boyer
Note: a version of this review is forthcoming in The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide.
The journals and diaries of writers are a mixed bag: sometimes they illuminate the work, sometimes they are more gossipy than informative, and in a few cases, they are so pithy and beautifully observed, they rival the published work of the author (Isaac Babel’s and Mavis Gallant’s Diaries come to mind).
At a mere 78 pages, Tim Dlugos’ New York Diary is so slight that it may, at first, seem inconsequential. Yet, if you care about what life was like in New York pre-AIDS, and especially if you care about Dlugos’ work, the diary is poignant and valuable. Dlugos was part of the poetry scene in New York in the early Seventies, and represents one of the more notable voices lost to AIDS. David Trinidad has done a huge service to Dlugos’ work over the years by editing not only this diary, but also Dlugos’ collected poems: A Fast Life.
Written in his first 6 months in New York in 1976 and at the age of just 26, the diary is full of youthful charm (“I listened to A Chorus Line straight through, crying at half the songs; then I felt much better”) and details about the cultural highpoints of the period: “saw the beautiful Baryshnikov in Twyla [Tharpe]’s piece, “Push Comes to Shove”...Jerry Robbins was on the balcony when we took the air for one intermission – striking looking man. I fell in love w/ most of the corps – the men, to be exact.” It’s also full of certain amount of titillating gossip: at a party, Dlugos runs into a boy partnered with one of Frank O’Hara’s former lovers, and remarks: “I told Steve that Frank O’Hara must have created the New York art and poetry scene single-handedly, with his popular cock.”
Even in the short, six-month span of the diary, Dlugos rubs elbows with literary luminaries such as John Ashberry, Edmund White, James Schuyler, and countless others. He sees Meryl Streep in the park early in her career and thinks her great. Like a great many young people, he is also a study in contradictions: despite the numerous entries detailing whom he did or didn’t have sex with, or wanted to, or had fallen in love with, or whether he should make another trip to the baths, he is also capable of expressing great guilt about not having capitalized “God” on a previous page. Indeed, in 1988, he enrolled in Yale Divinity School with the intention of becoming a priest, but died of AIDS in 1990.
In the end, it seems, Dlugos came to question nearly everything, including even his desire to be a poet. But, in his best work, he leaves behind a freshness and honesty that still ring through. New York Diary underscores anew the loss of this beautiful and important voice.