Matthew Dickman
(American Poetry Review)
We could "get hitched in Nevada. Just you, me, and Elvis." We could also "sell cheese curd in Wisconsin." Or go to Wyoming "getting drunk, shooting cans, peeing on the electric fence."

How about running off to LA, where "you don't get to be lonely."

    You can get skin peels and mud masks.
    You can go from one spa to another
    and watch the same lemon slices of cucumber
    float above the eyes of thirteen-year-old girls and seventy-year-old
    women. You won't see that in Minnesota.

"Minnesota! Cover me up with a wool blanket / and put me to bed." And Iowa?

    We'll take a bus there. A bus is a diplomat.
    It throws us all together, our books,
    hats and umbrellas. I am never more human
    than when I'm riding next to someone
    who makes me shudder. If my body
    touches his body who knows what will happen? Race issues
    and cooties.

§     §     §

This Dickman is something else again: he's Whitman and Ginsberg and Kerouac and Gertrude Stein and Charles Bukowski and Billy Collins and e. e. cummings all rolled into one ... and by my troth is he fun. This is one of those rare books of blank verse you can pick up and read as if it were a novel ... perhaps it is a novel, with no plot, really, outside of simple joy; but still an on-the-road epic, filled with casual by-passing images made in heaven, choice lines to hang on the refrigerator (or the clothes-line), take to the beach,

    Some days a kitchen can
    save your life.

Or, watching "An Imaginary French Film,"

    Ah Paris when it's raining
    and dark and I'm having popcorn in the dark,
    watching the march of subtitles make their way across the shoulders
    and breasts of actors from Lyons and actresses from Marseilles.

Or the memories of growing up in Lents, Oregon:

    On the weekend our furious mothers
    applied their lipstick
    that left red cuts on the ends of their Marlboro Reds
    and our fathers quietly did whatever
    fathers do
    when trying to keep the dogs of sorrow
    from tearing them limb from limb.

"Dogs of sorrow." Dickman is the master of the run-on pouring out like the 4th of July evening sky tearing sizzlers and firebombs, symbols and metaphors careening together in a frenzied spicing of our world, our past blended with chance and astonishing turns: "At night my hat disappears / And then my scarf, gloves, my watch with the time inside it / bravely marching forward."

It's the last three words that do it, screwing a commonplace into a complex and mythic poetic view, images turning turtle to give a clarity of vision to the universe, this man and his perverse world of a myriad different states of mind clamped together, a fix on the present collected with a wry yesterday, Dickman conveying not only the strange fix we've gotten ourselves into but listening to a symphony, where he is able to transform the sound into a vision,

    It's the kind of music to make love to
    with a shy woman who works all day at the public library,
    her breasts roaring like the two lions outside...
    It's what I imagine astronauts are listening to
    inside their helmets
    while they watch a new planet begin to spin
    and then another and another like notes from a cello until the night sky
    looks like an aquarium.

§     §     §

The thirty outsized poems here can reach inside of us to build a funny world of funny people doing and seeing funny things with a sense that is so pure we can see it as the American dream, taking the commonplace and elevating it in jazz riffs to turn the simple into an elegant but beautiful vision.

    I can't tell you how strangely romantic the Atlantic becomes when the sky
    is dumping snow into it.

It is the task of a poet to take things that don't belong together and wrap them up in the same blanket and as you read it you nod your head and know that it is right and good and proper. Dickman can take snow falling in the black Atlantic, transform it into "seeing, for the first time / a naked body."

    Even though you know her name. You have even played a part
    in making her naked, but now she is something
    altogether different.

This isn't show-off stuff, a poetic version of name-dropping. It is, rather, the right stuff: marrying things that should perhaps have been wed all along.

Pat McGuiness writes that during the anarchist attacks in Paris in 1894, Stéphane Mallarmé expressed disgust. "Only one person had the right to be an anarchist: me, the poet, because I alone produce something that society doesn't want, in exchange for which it gives me nothing to live on." Dickman is just such a figure: giving us not only what we should want, but, at the same time, demanding nothing in exchange.

--- A. W. Allworthy
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