Dunn as Cultural Critic
A House, a Desk, and a Chair
Really, you have no choice,
but you'll believe that you do.
We build that error in.
As we also do the notion of hope.
One of us, this very moment,
in beautifully formed cursive,
is misspelling who you are.
You are what we consider fun.
It seems normal, doesn't it--
your house, your desk, your chair,
But you, like the others,
have been assigned arbitrary places
in our world. We have supplied
and will continue to supply you
with all the illusions a man needs
to stay exactly where he is,
and you will call it destiny,
and you will call it the place
you've worked so hard to achieve.
In fact, you'll feel unscripted,
and it does not matter
that you're learning this now.
The script says you'll forget.
You are programmed to worship us,
who are kind, ethereal, perfect.
You kneel to ask our blessings,
and find reasons for our silence.
No matter what we do, we're sure
that even now you're saying
to yourself: kind, ethereal, perfect,
that the three have become one.
*transcribed from Here and Now Manuscript, Hofstra Special Collections, Dunn Archive, Box 11, Folder 5
“A House, a Desk and a Chair” is one of many Dunn poems that explore and critique society in both a lighthearted, funny and serious, dark way. The speaker boldly opens up with a direct address to the reader “Really, you have no choice, / but you’ll believe that you do.” (Dunn) The diction is already chilling in contrast to a seemingly simplistic title while the contradiction provides humor.
It is up to the reader to decide who is the speaker of the poem; it can be inferred it is the gods. (line 5-8) Dunn addresses normalcy, complacency, routine, and existence in the second stanza. He uses plain and direct diction as well as a list. The third stanza uses anaphora in the first two lines.
The entire poem stays in the direct address. There is also a tremendous sense of humor in the poem. "In fact, you'll feel unscripted/ and it does not matter/ that you're learning this now./ The script says you'll forget" (Dunn). This humor is juxtaposed with the more chilling lines, like the final stanza. The final stanza, perhaps the most chilling, uses a list and repetition to give the words kind ethereal and perfect multiple meanings. There is a sinister tone in the all-knowing conclusion the speakers of the poem make.
Dunn uses displacement and meditates on existence, religion, fate, destiny, and life through the inanimate objects a house a desk and a chair. Dunn has often been described as a poet focused on the mundane, the minutia of everyday life, which is true. But often the exploration of the mundane offers large conclusions about existence, as seen in "A House a desk and a Chair."