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Matthew Dickman – Poetry’s Wingman

October 2, 2012

If there was ever a man to bring poetry to the people, encourage politicians to meet halfway, or change the world through words, it is Portland poet Matthew Dickman. The man possesses a life force that is palpable even in a room crammed with hundreds of people, crying babies, and the last gasps of a warm fall Portland evening.

Last night, Dickman wasn’t just reading from his new book Mayakovsky’s Revolver, he was living each poem before our eyes and ears. He invited the hundreds who showed up for this event to look deep into his heart and soul, watch him wrestle with his demons and memories, get delivered from their grasp, and laugh out loud.

When’s the last time you heard hoots and whistles at a reading? There were plenty last night. It was rock concert-worthy appreciation for poems that explore the issues of Dickman’s older brother’s suicide, how to love what you cannot understand, and lessons in celebrating the dark.

To read Mayakovsky’s Revolver is to experience life in all its lightness, darkness, and everything in between. His words are booster rockets for the light, and a balm against the dark. His poetry makes the world seem less scary by shining a light on the chasms beneath our feet. We are alone, but somehow we are alone together. Matthew Dickman is a wingman for survival, love, and most of all, poetry.

After Dickman read, he said:

“Poetry is always an advocate for us because it advocates humanity, it advocates true sincere empathy, and it advocates intelligence and creativity, which then advocates for a world that is okay for us to live in. I know this probably is not possible today, or tonight, but I want you to think about it over this next week, but if all of you, this evening or at some point, could come back to Powell’s Books and buy a book of poems. Any book of poems you like. Mail it to a family member, mail it to a friend, mail it to a senator, someone who you think doesn’t read poems. Take a moment to advocate for poetry itself, and advocate for bookstores like this one.”

About his writing process:

“I don’t think we ever have to be inspired to write. I think the muse is maybe something the Republican Party invented. It’s just me in my head trying to figure out myself, in a way. It usually comes out in this unedited stream of consciousness kind of thing. Although I am educated–I did an undergrad program for eight years–and having gone through that, I feel like I’m a little naive about the critical side of my brain. I’m sort of like trying to monkey some stuff onto the page, and then deal with whatever comes up.”

What he would do if he were asked to write a poem for the inauguration if Mitt Romney wins:

“If I were asked to write a poem for a Republican or conservative event, absolutely I would say yes. I think the only way we’re changed is by experiencing art. I think that is the deep way we’re changed, you know. I mean, again, if everyone in this room bought a book of poems and sent it to someone who had different political views than they did, someone who they thought was right wing, conservative, whatever, and you sent them the book of poems, and you said ‘Look, I’m a human being. This book of poems affected me, and changed my life. I want to share it with you.’ Without any propaganda on your part, without any ‘you suck, read a poem.’ Then, if that human being who received it actually sat down and read it, it would be way more powerful than many, many, many other ways to get to that person’s heart.”

Listen to Matthew Dickman reading last night from his poem, Getting It Right.

W.W. Norton, 2012

Matthew Dickman is the author of All-American Poem (2008), and is the winner of the May Sarton Award from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the 2009 Oregon Book Award for Poetry, and received the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. With his twin brother, the poet Michael Dickman, he is the co-author of 50 American Plays. His work has appeared in The American Poetry Review, Tin House, and The New Yorker. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

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One Comment
  1. John McNeese permalink

    I wasn’t there but after reading your blog, I felt as if I had been. Diane, you write so beautifuly.

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