2010 Festival Poet: Michael Dickman

Rebecca Gambale, Festival Assistant

Michael Dickman PhotoHave you ever recalled a dream or memory to another person? What happens to the structure of your language as you pull up the dormant images in your mind? Think of your fragmented speech, and how your voice sounds when you say it aloud, repeated from the past. You are digging, and you are feeling. You are translating an experience into language. This embodies the subtle mood of a Michael Dickman poem – see him read his poem “Flies,” below, and watch how careful retelling becomes the foundation of his style.

(Note: Disregard the mistaken YouTube title — this is actually Michael reading “Flies”)

The mindfulness created by Dickman’s paucity of words creates an organic experience; we are lowered into these memories as though they were our own. We are introduced to familiar images, and thoughts so private they could only be internal. This verbal economy makes every image-driven line haunting, every carefully chosen word resonant. Dickman is not telling you a story, he is showing you what a memory feels like as it rings out in your mind.

With every line of a Michael Dickman poem, we become aware of how a word breaks a silence. When that line is finished, we become aware of silence again. This elemental relationship with words, this giving and taking away, creates an intimacy with the reader which is captivating. We wait to know when the silences will return, as silence becomes as meaningful as image. We are at the mercy of Dickman’s staccato structure, but comforted by his smooth reading. Read Dickman’s poem, Good Friday, while listening to it and you can imagine him confiding in you, methodically placing each line against the heavy silence which surrounds. (Note: The poem’s text here differs from the recorded version.)

Reading Dickman, we become aware of the white space on the page in contrast to his tidy lines. See the visual effect of how his images stand stark against white space in his poems “Nervous System,” “Seeing Whales” and “My Autopsy.” There is a sense that the reader should slowly consume the images presented, as though absorbing them in personal memory. There is a feeling that phrases become mantras, heavily ruminated on and rooted in memory, such as in the poem “We Did Not Make Ourselves.” The phrases “You think you’ll be missed / it won’t last long / I promise” and “There is only this world and this world// What a relief / created // over and over” have a feeling of self-comforting and consoling to them, often like the phrases we may think to ourselves so subconciously that we don’t even realize them.

Born in the Lents District of Portland, Oregon, Dickman is getting a great deal of attention for his first collection, The End of the West, released by Copper Canyon Press in 2009. Since, he has been awarded a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton for 2009-2010. He has been profiled in the New Yorker with his twin brother Matthew, and has been generally received as a young poet to watch.

Please use the “Share your thoughts with us” box below to share other resources you may have found for this poet. In this way, we can build together a mini-wiki-encyclopedia on the 2010 Festival Poets.

Return in the weeks ahead as we continue to profile the 2010 Festival Poets.

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The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark is October 7 – 10
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