Let's get the obligatory journalism out of the way quickly: Michael Dickman's biography is interesting. He and his twin brother, Matthew, are both terribly renowned young poets (if poets are ever renowned, these days, outside of tight circles), both Michener Fellows, both raised in the decidedly unpoetic Felony Flats of Southeast Portland, and both played otherworldly twin PreCogs in the film Minority Report. Satisfied? Good.
On to the poems.
The most accessible poem in Dickman's sophomore collection, Flies, "Emily Dickinson to the Rescue," begins by wondering if Dickinson "took a shit every morning/ or ever fucked anybody/ or ever fucked/ herself." From this jokey shock, however, the poem quickly submerges itself into quiet empathy:
You want these sorts of things for people
the earth inside
Instead of white
nightgowns and terrifying
This sort of turn is common in Dickman's poetry: one voice slipping into another, terse lyricism blending into buoyant colloquialism and back. Sometimes he sounds like a jaunty Frank O'Hara reporting on the traffic ("it was dark in there and scary and there were woods that no one had ever mentioned before"), while at others his language splinters into bleak, collagist fragments or isolating enjambments (The stars are wrong/ Begin Begin/ I was just whispering/ into my glass/ pillow").
Though Flies centers itself tightly on family and family trauma—in particular, on the death of his older brother—its poetry is far from confessional. As is true of most sufferers of anything, Dickman doesn't confess so much as act out; his poems brim with twitches and tells, with unfinished thoughts and violent images that recur as if unbidden, never leading to release or resolution but rather to life's insistent particularity and dumb, quotidian mystery.
Often this means that these poems are what people politely call "difficult": There are no Hallmark epiphanies or mellifluous reveries, and no easy narrative thread to grab onto. So even though Dickman's words are humble, everyday, swift-moving things—and even though his poems are often absurdly funny—they don't yield their secrets easily. And yet one is drawn through them as fluidly as through any experience; image and association accrete, rather than build, into substance. "None of my friends wrote poems or novels from the lives of my friends came their lives," writes Dickman. From the poems, similarly, come the poems: queasy little prayer boxes, shot through with memory.
GO: Michael Dickman and poet Zachary Schomburg read at Powell's Books on Hawthorne, 3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 228-4651. 7:30 pm Friday, Aug. 19. Free.