My professor pal (and loaning library) Todd McKinney had turned me onto the Dickman brothers awhile ago.I read Michael Dickman's The End of the West twice this past Christmas Break. Oh man was it good! The other day, I was reading Frank O'Hara's Selected Poems, and Todd walks in and says, "Read this," handing me Matthew Dickman's All-American Poem.
I have this bad habit of reading individual poems carelessly, skewing my overall experience with a collection, especially when immersed in the middle of a school semester. I'll read half a poem and say Nah, I'm done with this or get caught up in individual cool/sucky lines. Because of my growing respect for the Dickman brothers and I thought Todd might quiz me, I wanted to read this one with care.
As a young poet still trying to find out how I want to come across in my poems, I appreciated Dickman's poetic voice. I felt like he was writing in a "talking" manner. Oddly enough, this element was bogging me down with the O'Hara collection; I love the straightforwardness of these types of poems, but there is a certain element of description (for me! for me!) that makes Dickman's poems a little more accessible in my particular place in my poetry-reading-life, saying nothing of the overall quality of poems though.
I have a professor that says not to write about our souls or our hearts, write about objects, people, things. In modern writing discussion, I'm always hearing things about abstractions being dangerous/sucky and "what does that look like?" worries. In his opening poem The Mysterious Human Heart, Dickman seems to address this, beggining with a list of produce in New York, everything from oranges to walnuts. When he does get to his heart in the sixth line, Dickman describes it as "something I will never hold in my hands, something I will never understand." Maybe I have been brainwashed to cringe at certain things, like talking about your heart or rhyming. I about shriveled up.
However, I'm often described as a needy person, constantly needing/seeking reassurance and affection, one running around throwing his "heart" at people. Obviously, I want to portray the sincerity of that longing in my own writing. Dickman seems to do that better with poems like Slow Dance, describing how "the slow dance" is that connection he is looking for, and Amigos, telling of his desire for companionship through a scene including a big storm, a coffee shop, and "his amigos." I especially relate to Dickman's longing for being close to other humans.
Amigos holds one of my favorite lines in the whole book: There are days I feel as though someone has written my name on a stone/and thrown it over the side of a cliff.
Slow Dance does also have examples of my complaints with some of these poems. For instance, he says, "It's all kindness like children before they turn three." For such an attempt at a sweet sentiment, it ruins the thing for me as it just doesn't seem true. I've met two year olds with no kindness in their hearts. Also, the poems ends with "The haiku and honey. The orange and orangutan slow dance." While I think I see where he is going, such a connected poem, twirling around this metaphor of the slow dance, gets muddled with these dropped images.
These poems are also filled with references to sexual desire. While some work, like the S&M reference in Love, others distract from the (possible) beauty of the rest of the poem, like the line "The blastoff of the first word sending the penis into space. Not that I ever imagined/my cock being a spaceships/though sometimes men are like astronauts, orbiting/the hot planets of women" from the same poem, Love. At times it seems as though Dickman can't filter himself, limiting the projection of sincerity in his poems.
My favorite poems: Love, Snow, Amigos, All-American Poem, American Studies, The World Is Too Huge To Grasp
Least favorite poems: Classical Poem, An Imaginary French Film, Grief
This dude rips this book.
If I were to do it over, I would read this book again, maybe in the winter, in a corner of the library.