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No, You Shut Up!

By Travis Nichols

twindragon.jpg

Tonight at the Elliot Bay Book Co. in Seattle, the Portland poetry twins Matthew and Michael Dickman will read from their debut collections.
I haven’t yet read either All-American Poem (by the former) or End of the West (by the latter), because I have been so thoroughly engrossed in the hubub the duo has caused.


Back in 2005, Major Jackson introduced Matthew’s poems in a Boston Review sampler, calling the poems “melancholic portraits of impoverished white teenagers,” and since then the brothers have cornered a small bit of the poetry market. Their poems have been featured in all kinds of literary journals and mags large and small, as well as New Yorker (a surefire way to cause strange feelings). More recently Matthew’s book has won the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, a nice supplement to his food prep income.
Last month, Seattle’s erstwhile daily paper profiled the Dickman brothers, casting them as shambling savants of a particularly self-deprecating Northwest sort (“Matthew says, ‘Michael’s poems are much better than mine.'”)
All of this attention meant that it was only a matter of time before someone decided it was time to bring out the roundhouse. Enter Michael Schiavo:
Tony Hoagland, in his introduction, writes: “All-American Poem is a heroic and generous collection of poetry.” Which makes me believe that Mr. Hoagland either read an entirely different manuscript, written by a different person, or it was Opposite Day when he typed these words. For the work is indeed the opposite: it is cowardly and selfish.
Oh dear.
Schiavo does not like the Dickman brothers, either as people, it seems, or as poets. He states his reasons clearly and with a certain aplomb, which in turn caused the internets to work themselves up into a lather (lotsa comments and giddy bloodlust around the blogosphere–“Michael Draws His Wu-Tang Sword,” Wow“, etc. ).
On and on it goes, overlapping a bit with the Guriel-inspired discussion of negative reviews, until a few days ago the whole thing jumps the shark: HTMLGIANT posts a negative review by Rauan Klassnick of the the negative review by Michael Schiavo:
So, it’s agreed: we need negative reviews.
But, seriously now, the negative review should be fair also. Smart. Well thought out. And it should not, as it exposes shit, be full of it too. (And when I say “shit” here I mean the bad kind. The toxic kind.)
Schiavo’s negative review is to a certain extent successful, but, unfortunately, it is also, at its heart, prescriptive, fanatical, and self-righteous. It is, at its heart, full of shit.

And there at the end of the HTMLGIANT comment chain is the comment: “That’s IT. I’m writing a review of this review.”
Can’t wait!
In the meantime, I will go hear the Bros. read, and take some time with the books. If I end up walking the floor late at night thinking of puerile jokes spun from the brothers’ family name, I will be sure to post them in the comments section.

Comments (57)

  • On March 20, 2009 at 2:12 pm ShanaRose wrote:

    I actually haven’t read any of the work mentioned in this post yet, though it was entertaining despite that. What I’m excited about is the very personal re-discovery of a one time guest poet professor from my under grad years who you linked to in this article. Some how I feel more complete.

  • On March 20, 2009 at 2:20 pm John Williamson wrote:

    Just read 2 of Matthew Dickman’s pieces: “Show Us The Pliedes” and “Grief”. Absolutely remarkable stuff.

  • On March 20, 2009 at 2:55 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Schiavo v. Dickman is certainly more interesting to me than Schiavo or Dickman.
    Fame is not a quality, it’s an industry. Thanks to Dickman, I’m reading Schiavo, who sounds like a would-be Dickman in his review: “You’re a dick, Dickman, but I’m a man.”
    I think what has Schiavo all bent out of shape is Tony Hoagland comparing Dickman to O’Hara and Whitman.
    Schiavo only makes Dickman’s case when he pumps up Whitman and O’Hara as models which Dickman fails against.
    Dickman on his own is not really new or interesting. This is pretty good slam poetry material, that’s all.
    Schiavo trips on his O’Hara/Whitman love. Patriotism is unseemly in poetry, and Dickman’s Americana is what infuriates Schiavo only because Schiavo quite evidently holds a huge torch for Whitman and O’Hara as true American poets. If he would let this go, he could let his disdain for Dickman go, and then we could all sleep off our Dickman intoxication and wake up and do something more interesting in the morning.
    Thomas

  • On March 20, 2009 at 5:13 pm Jenna wrote:

    Was that “one time guest poet professor from my under grad years” one of twins pictured? I certainly hope so.

  • On March 20, 2009 at 9:12 pm Lytton Smith wrote:

    What surprises me most about the post – and comments so far – is the lack of critical engagement. I don’t really give a damn, hoot, or rabbit’s foot whether you’re in the Dickman camp, the Schiavo camp or in both: I want to know why, I want to see people engaging with poetry, close reading, thinking. For instance: I’m glad Thomas commented but there’s no way Schiavo’s support of Whitman constitutes support for Dickman, and a single quoted line of Whitman would suffice to show this. Take your Whitman off the shelf (what, you don’t own one? No wonder your comment is misguided. Oh, you do? Well, did you open it before posting? Thought not) and you’ll see how different Whitman is from Dickman. I’m teaching 50 undergraduates this semester, many who are reading Whitman for the first time, and I’m surprised anyone could recommend Dickman to them in terms of Whitman. By all means recommend Dickman on his merits – as you see them – but don’t insert Whitman’s name just because Dickman uses “America” in his poetry. And similarly, I think there’s a comparison to be drawn between Schiavo and Whitman, but I would also want to stress the departures, the different realizations of the compositional unit. Why do we feel comfortable referencing similarity in our reviews when we can’t face up to articulating differences?
    As I read it, and despite Schiavo’s critique of its irrelevance to his generation, Silliman’s distinction between School of Quietude and avant-garde poetics comes down to a willingness to discourse on poetics, to articulate – in poetry or in criticism – what one is up to. Quietude remains silent on this. As some of you may have noticed, I’ve commented on several posts and comments with a simple question: will someone explain the poetics of All-American Poem to me, explicate that title and the method of the poems within that book? As yet, no one has risen to the challenge. Speaking personally, I find it easy to do the same for The Mad Song, which poses some intriguing formal questions, in addition to its thoughts on Emerson, Whitman, Constance Rourke, and others. I’ve re-read The Mad Song, which is a good sign for any book of poems.
    So maybe let’s avoid these simplistic posts on the Poetry Foundation website which re-state in vaguely light-hearted terms events that have happened on other, more generative blogs. Let’s be critical. Travis: you posted a really great post the other day on the intersection between recovery projects and contemporary generation. I’m disappointed by today’s effort. I’d love to know why you love/hate Dickman/Schiavo or what you’ve been reading instead – and why. Because if you do end up making puerile jokes, in theory or in practice, you’ve reduced this to a conversation about poets rather than about poetry. And that’s the last thing anyone needs – except perhaps twins who have appeared in a Tom Cruise movie.

  • On March 21, 2009 at 1:48 am Annie Finch wrote:

    When WAS the last time the School of Q had its poetics well-articulated, anyway? And by whom? It seems to have been quite a while. Naked Poetry, 1969?
    Re Lytton’s larger question, my understanding is that the Harriet blog consciously aims for a mix of different types of posts–from discussions of poetry to poets, deep poetics to po-biz and signposts to other parts of the web, since Harriet has a mix of readers with varying tastes, or even varying moods. The “light-hearted” post on po-biz serves an important, and refreshing, role in the mix–and in this case, it also seems accurate to the reality of the situation; the amount of hype and gossip and scandal is, after all, the reason we are talking about these particular poets in the first place . . .
    That said, Lytton, glad to see you here & I’m looking forward to more of your take on the poetics involved and esp. my question above.
    One other thought: Why should Schiavo have to give up his appreciation for Whitman and O’Hara as great American poets in order to “let go of his disdain for Dickman”? Seems to me his appreciation for those two poets, both of whom have heartbreakingly beautiful ears for poetry, should make it easier for him to not care much one way or the other about Dickman. From an aesthetic p.o.v. anyway. Pobiz is another matter.

  • On March 21, 2009 at 7:52 am Former Berkeley Girl wrote:

    I agree with Lytton Smith that there has been a remarkable lack of critical engagement in the whole Schiavo/Dickman kerfluffle as it has played out on various blogs. So far, I have not seen even one defense of Dickman’s *book*; commenters (mostly anonymous) have personally attacked Schiavo and questioned his motives, but they have sidestepped the issues and concerns he raises about Dickman’s work. Why? While I agree with many of Schiavo’s criticisms, I don’t believe that All-American Poem is indefensible, and I’d be very interested to read a review that responds to Schiavo’s specific claims about the book’s flaws. I second L. Smith’s call for an intelligent discussion of Dickman’s poetics.

  • On March 21, 2009 at 10:37 am Bill Knott wrote:

    Smith’s comment above is hostile and condescending; it’s this kind of arrogant academic attitudinizing that keeps so many away from poetry:
    According to Smith,
    I can’t simply enjoy reading Matthew Dickman’s verse,
    no, I have to prove its merit, I have to present a “critical argument” to justify my admiration, I have to try to persuade those opposed:
    screw that—
    I refuse to apologize or offer “critical discussion” to justify or authenticate my preferences and pleasures——
    and if that means I’m not “serious,” so be it.
    *
    (a paragraph from my blog of three years ago (I was writing about Olds, but since Matthew Dickman is in the Olds tradition, I think it’s relevant):
    I don’t see anything wrong with writing about one’s self, though it seems like there are always those who stand ready to condemn the poets who do it too passionately (re Olds). Sadly this type of poem has now fallen into disfavor—not with the larger poetrybook-buying public, but with a growing segment of younger poets. The first-person narrative, the realist-autobiopoem of Olds and Levine [add Matthew Dickman to this lineage], has been subverted and refuted and or ignored by many younger poets. These new poets know they’ve grown up into a regime where poetry is ruled over by Theory, where the poem is a slave to Poetics. In the ancient quarrel between poets and philosophers, the balance of power has shifted to the latter: “[T]he philosophical critique of poetry is ascendant. In the provinces of literary criticism, Plato’s heirs have apparently won out.” (Mark Edmundson, Literature against Philosophy, Plato to Derrida / A Defence of Poetry). These poets have internalized this cruel critique and sublimate it via the usual strategies of auto-punishment. Snatch the whip from Master and lash yourself. In any case their seemingly-on-the-surface-disparate modes of servile irony have to a certain extent seized the floor. The Confessional poem has been pushed offstage.)
    *
    I’m glad to see the return of the Levine/Olds style poem as exemplified by Matthew Dickman,
    and I applaud Tony Hoagland and Marie Howe for bringing him to the attention of those like me who appreciate this kind of poetry and will buy his book——
    which I assume will appear on the Poetrybook Bestseller list offered by this site——
    *
    and a brief to “Berkeley gal” above:
    I don’t know what “Dickman’s poetics” are,
    but I know what his poems are,
    and they are great.

  • On March 21, 2009 at 10:57 am Bill Knott wrote:

    if the success of Matthew Smith indicates a trend back
    to the modes of Confessional poetry,
    what good news . . .
    Hopefully his courage and genius will embolden others in his generation
    to stop writing poetics and start writing poems—

  • On March 21, 2009 at 2:46 pm Doodle wrote:

    Maybe the SoQ would state their poetics… if there were such a thing as the SoQ!
    Dickman has a book. Does he have, or have to have, a poetics? It might be a good book, it might be bad. Some folks might like it, or hate it. What does any of that have to do with “poetics?”
    Are “poetics” necessary?

  • On March 21, 2009 at 3:00 pm Former Berkeley Girl wrote:

    Hi Bill,
    Another way to phrase my query is: who out there likes Dickman’s book, and why? This is simply a way to establish a dialogue. Michael Schiavo has explained at length why he doesn’t like Dickman’s work, and I’d like to hear some responses other than “Michael Schiavo is jealous.” At this point, I think it’s more than reasonable to ask for constructive exchange rather than name-calling from Dickman’s supporters.
    FBG

  • On March 21, 2009 at 4:06 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    well, “Former Berkeley Girl”,
    thanks anyway, but I don’t want a “dialogue” or “constructive exchange”—
    to paraphrase Henri Michaux,
    Others prefer dialogue and constructive exchange; me, I like to call people names.
    *
    Spare me the specious solemnities and sophistic seriousities of po’crits like Smith,
    all of whom can PROVE their points with scientific exactitude, and
    of course if poetry were only a science then these practitioners of “Poetics”
    would rule the realm——
    unfortunately for them, most poetry readers are not intimidated by their blithertudinal parsiflage pap,
    because most poetry readers are intelligent enough to make their own choices
    unencumbered by the yikes of Theory——
    which of course brings me back to the Poetrybook Bestseller List which is regularly updated on this site,
    and which most po’crits who comment on this blog
    never mention, gee I wonder why, could it be because their books never appear there——
    I don’t know if Matthew Dickman’s book will make it onto that list, though it certainly merits a wide readership,
    but I know his poetry does have what those PBL poets like Collins and Giovanni and Oliver have,
    energy and accessibilty——
    but let me end this post by recommending a poet that admirers of Dickman would I think enjoy,
    Allison Joseph——
    I used to teach poetry workshops and every semester I would xerox poems by Joseph . . . she deserves to be on that list alongside Dickman.

  • On March 21, 2009 at 9:50 pm Travis Nichols wrote:

    Bill,
    Matthew Dickman has been on the bestseller list a few times, but he’s not there this week. It’s always interesting to see if any kind of blogosphere kerfuffle has any impact on the bestseller list, or on the Amazon list. Usually not.
    http://poetryfoundation.org/journal/bestsellers.Contemporary.html
    Lytton, I appreciate the thoughtful response. It’s a delicate balance between reporting on what’s happening around the web, and generating what’s happening on the web. In this case, the po-biz was well ahead of Harriet, and so I wanted to see what the Harriet denizens thought of the conversation that has been going on for a month now.
    -Travis

  • On March 22, 2009 at 12:31 am G the Art Spy wrote:

    Here’s some critical engagement: The All-American Poem book opens with a line similar to: “The apples in New York City are really apples.” Okay, what else were they: Gremlins? When I was in the bookstore perusing this title and read that first line, I thought: not truth, but pretention; not content, but style; not insight, but boredom. A line like that is surface, style marketing.
    I glanced through the book and it does seem like All-American drops U.S. state names, as if saying “Kansas” just means “the heartland” in some profound way–which is what Schiavo points out. The lines are long, but without any of Whitman’s amazing phrases (nature without check with original energy) or Ginsberg’s internal compressions (taxicabs of absolute reality), as Schiavo notes. The poem “travels” through American, but nothing is discovered but the narrator’s voice. That was my brief impression, and obviously, also Schiavo’s more detailed one.
    I like the comment above that Schiavo is holding onto Whitman and O’Hara. Is that a limitation?…. Not a bad crutch though. Whitman at least is an inspiration.
    Schiavo probably is most outraged about the contest judge Tony Hoagland’s overpraise of this book. The fact is–like Hoagland’s work or not (and I do)–his work is very well written, from the line level to the metaphor level. This book is not.
    A lot of mediocre American poetry today is written in a way that if you took out 10 % of the lines, it would not affect the meaning. This book would have been better with 50 % to 90 % of the lines cut. At the same time, there are many poets alive today that write necessary verse.

  • On March 22, 2009 at 10:39 am Lytton Smith wrote:

    Bill: I’m sorry you find my comment hostile, condescending, arrogant, and academic. My point was to ask for exactly the kind of response you gave: an explanation of what you value in Dickman’s work. Pleasure in the work itself is not only a valid reason, but the most valid one, for reading something: I hope those reading P. Inman and Nada Gordon get as much pleasure as those reading Sharon Olds and Marie Howe. For me, Olds and Levine are both more political writers than Dickman is, but that’s a matter of opinion, especially since you value the energy in particular. I’m just happy you’ve launched the discussion with specifics. I don’t think that’s academic, but I do think that reading for pleasure is a critical pursuit, because in involves choices and self-reflection.
    That reading for pleasure involves choice, the point in my original post was not to prevent you or anyone from reading Dickman’s book. There are poets I choose not to read but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear why others love them. I just think we have to talk specifics, beyond “I loved this” to say why we love it, what it does for us (and that doesn’t have to be academic, and I don’t think its hostile to expect it). One of the reasons we have to do this is because certain books get a lot of coverage and others get almost none. You say that Dickman is bringing back “realist autobiopoems,” but that’s been going on for a long time: what about Priscilla Becker (who is a friend and former teacher of mine), Marie Howe herself, John Surowiecki, any number of people who don’t make the bestseller list and don’t come across your or our radar? I think these books have plenty of readers out there, and I think we’ll find them by talking specifically about what happens in the books, rather than talking about them in terms of other poets or broad generalizations. The potential readers of Dickman may not have read (nor should have to have) Levine and Olds, and even if they have, they need to know what you value in and make of those writers if the comparison is going to be useful to them, either in getting them to purchase/borrow the book, or informing them about it. I guess what I’m partly saying is we don’t need to be afraid of talking about poetry as an artistic medium with particular techniques, such as line-breaks or alliteration or form. I’m more hesitant when we start talking about the personality behind the poems: Sylvia Plath is a wonderful writer (for me) whose energy and urgency come largely from her formal work, but she’s all too often read for biography and content, which does her a disservice and alienates many readers, I fear.
    Travis: thanks for writing back. I’ve been enjoying your posts here, and didn’t mean to be too strong in my response; I guess I was worried that the kind of unnecessary responses I’ve seen on other blogs would happen here and I’m very glad that isn’t true; the discussion here is really interesting, as ever. I’m looking forward to your next post (and I really dug the recovery one…I’m trying to work up a way to write back, because it’s a project close to my heart).
    Annie: hi, thanks, and all good points. I’d say Naked Lunch was the last time the SoQ (to the extent that it actually exists as such) had its poetics articulated institutionally, but I think what I’m arguing for is that poetics needs to be seen as something we can all talk about as individuals. I think Bill Knott is against the term as sounding academic, but it doesn’t have to be: poetics is the way the poem happens on the page and for the reader, the poem’s means and methods. Loving a poem isn’t the last step in a relationship with it, but often the first, or the bassline that accompanies an on-going relationship with it (and that’s a point Schiavo made in his interview with me). Anyone who uses language can talk about poetry and about poetics with no extra training, by describing what they see happening and why they are moved and perhaps unsettled by it. I’d love to see that happening more often with poets of all stripes: the individual writing a blog post about an individual book is more valuable, to me at least, than the anthology attempting to survey the field, especially in these days of diverse, diffuse, and extensive publishing. Some of the most exciting readers of poetry I’ve met have been the freshman students in my Intro to Poetry sections, the students who initially feel they “don’t know how” to read poetry. Reminded that they know how to read, encouraged to describe and articulate what’s grabbing and what’s confusing them about the poem, they come up with amazing readings that really inspire me. In turn, I’m encouraged that there are thousands of poetry readers out there with a lot to offer blogs like this, if only we can keep finding ways to keep the conversation open. You yourself do that (here, and in your own poetry) by talking about Whitman and O’Hara’s ear in relation to Dickman, and that is more useful that the reviews, which have simply name-checked famous poets as if we’re all meant to know what that means.
    All best,
    Lytton

  • On March 22, 2009 at 11:25 am Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    .
    My, how serious we all are. Maybe poetry can be fun, too, you think?
    “When WAS the last time the School of Q had its poetics well-articulated, anyway? And by whom? It seems to have been quite a while. Naked Poetry, 1969?”
    – Annie Finch
    .
    I remember that book. I wrote a poem about it about thiry-five years ago.
    .
    Naked
    It was just a strange coincidence,
    my book falling and the cover
    coming off. I had written a poem
    (somewhat erotic) on the title page
    many weeks ago about the girl
    I sat behind in class today.
    She looked down.
    The title of the book was Naked Poetry
    & when the cover fell off it became
    what it called itself.
    .
    Copyright 2005 – EVOLVING-Poems 1965-2995, Gary B. Fitzgerald
    Copyright 2006 – Specimens-Selected Poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald

  • On March 22, 2009 at 12:28 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Speaking of “negative reviews,” a new magazine called Mayday http://maydaymagazine.com/, which launches May 1, will carry a commentary by me on Negative Reviews: why the poetry world has so few of them, why we need more of them, and what we might do to encourage their production. The issue will also carry a roundtable of brief replies (500-650 words) to the piece. Those who have so far agreed to respond include Don Share, Steve Burt, Ange Mlinko, Bob Archambeau, Daisy Fried, Michael Theune, John Latta, Michael Robbins, Noah Eli Gordon, Mark Wallace, Maureen McLane, Joe Amato, Dale Smith, Rebecca Porte, Bill Freind, David Lau, and John Bradley. A few more will be added.
    It promises to be an interesting and varied discussion!
    Kent

  • On March 22, 2009 at 1:11 pm Mairead wrote:

    “I don’t know what “Dickman’s poetics” are,
    but I know what his poems are,
    and they are great.”
    HEAR, HEAR. Thank you, Bill. Your comments here are so very right.
    I’ve read as much of Dickman as I can find online, and I fully intend on buying the book when I return to the States and can get it from my local store. So my ability to critically engage is limited but existent. I can understand the criticisms of Dickman’s technical skill – I think his line breaks are weak, are shambling, don’t kick you in the head like those of many poets I love do. But, but, but. The thing about confessional poetry, or whatever you’d like to call it (‘selfish,’ if you’re Schiavo and want the easy way out) – is when it’s good, it’s good. It’s the best. It’s oh-god-hell-yes-that’s-what-i’m-talking-about. In Grief, as in all good poems, call them confessional or not, that “I” might as well be you, you the reader, you the other human being I am trying to tell you something important here. Listen.
    “We sit for an hour
    while she tells me how unreasonable I’ve been,
    crying in the checkout line,
    refusing to eat, refusing to shower,
    all the smoking and all the drinking.”
    That’s grief, see, it’s not Matthew Dickman’s grief alone. It might not be your grief, sure, but here’s a little secret – it’s mine, and it’s someone else’s, it is many someone elses’, and “poetics” has nothing to do with it.
    “so I am aware of each syllable, each vowel
    wrapping around the bones like new muscle,
    the sound of that person’s body
    and how reckless it is,
    how careless that his name is in one pile and not the other.”

  • On March 22, 2009 at 2:20 pm thomas brady wrote:

    WTF?
    Lytton writes
    “I’m glad Thomas commented but there’s no way Schiavo’s support of Whitman constitutes support for Dickman, and a single quoted line of Whitman would suffice to show this. Take your Whitman off the shelf (what, you don’t own one? No wonder your comment is misguided. Oh, you do? Well, did you open it before posting? Thought not) and you’ll see how different Whitman is from Dickman.”
    Huh? This is the OPPOSITE of what I actually wrote! I can’t believe I have been flogged by an academic smarty-pants who can’t even bother to read what I wrote!!!!
    I did NOT say that “Schiavo’s support of Whitman constitutes support for Dickman.” I NEVER said that I thought Dickman resembled Whitman; he does not. I said because Tony Hoagland compared Whitman to Dickman, Schiavo was up in arms, and that Schiavo was anxious to prove Dickman was not as good as Whitman. I felt that Schiavo’s love of Whitman was carrying him away from a more accurate assessment of Dickman. I think this sums it up very well, but I haven’t a clue why Lytton got my summary all wrong; maybe Lytton has Whitman issues, too?
    Jeez!
    At least Schiavo quoted enough Dickman to give the reader who has not read Dickman a chance to make up his own mind.
    Knott can blather all he wants about how great Dickman is, and Lytton can misrepresent what I said all he wants, but you can’t begin to be taken seriously if you won’t quote your subject a little bit. If a review doesn’t quote substantially from its subject, that review should not be trusted. I was not reviewing Dickman, but Schiavo on Dickman, and I got the essence of Schiavo’s gripe, and from the Dickman Schiavo quoted, I was able to make a passing remark or two on Dickman–it seems like pretty good slam poetry, which is not really a huge judgment one way or the other, so I’m not guilty of blowing smoke.
    Man, I’m glad I cleared that up!
    Thomas

  • On March 23, 2009 at 6:22 am Michael Schiavo wrote:

    Mairead:
    I never called confessional poetry selfish. I called the specific poems contained in All-American Poem selfish and narcissistic. I wouldn’t even dub them confessional (and certainly not Confessional) because they never come close to taking the reader into consideration as Lowell, Plath, Berryman, Sexton, Snodgrass, and others did and do. The very passages you quote from “Grief” show the weaknesses of Dickman’s poetry, line breaks aside.
    First, here is “Grief” in whole so readers don’t have to keep clicking over to The New Yorker website:
    When grief comes to you as a purple gorilla
    you must count yourself lucky.
    You must offer her what’s left
    of your dinner, the book you were trying to finish
    you must put aside,
    and make her a place to sit at the foot of your bed,
    her eyes moving from the clock
    to the television and back again.
    I am not afraid. She has been here before
    and now I can recognize her gait
    as she approaches the house.
    Some nights, when I know she’s coming,
    I unlock the door, lie down on my back,
    and count her steps
    from the street to the porch.
    Tonight she brings a pencil and a ream of paper,
    tells me to write down
    everyone I have ever known,
    and we separate them between the living and the dead
    so she can pick each name at random.
    I play her favorite Willie Nelson album
    because she misses Texas
    but I don’t ask why.
    She hums a little,
    the way my brother does when he gardens.
    We sit for an hour
    while she tells me how unreasonable I’ve been,
    crying in the checkout line,
    refusing to eat, refusing to shower,
    all the smoking and all the drinking.
    Eventually she puts one of her heavy
    purple arms around me, leans
    her head against mine,
    and all of a sudden things are feeling romantic.
    So I tell her,
    things are feeling romantic.
    She pulls another name, this time
    from the dead,
    and turns to me in that way that parents do
    so you feel embarrassed or ashamed of something.
    Romantic? she says,
    reading the name out loud, slowly,
    so I am aware of each syllable, each vowel
    wrapping around the bones like new muscle,
    the sound of that person’s body
    and how reckless it is,
    how careless that his name is in one pile and not the other.
    You write: “In Grief, as in all good poems, call them confessional or not, that “I” might as well be you, you the reader, you the other human being I am trying to tell you something important here.”
    There is an enormous difference between “I” and “me,” and there’s a lot of “me, me, me” in Dickman’s work. “Grief” never shows the reader why the poet is grieving, nor whom he’s grieving for but puts almost the entire emphasis on the poet himself. As I said in my essay, Matthew Dickman is the subject of every poem in All-American Poem.
    While the title indicates the poem is trying to be a universal observation of the particular emotion, Dickman misapprehends perhaps another poet who writes so broadly, his poetry is often taken as vague: John Ashbery. Ashbery is very specific in his language and imagery and he writes in such a way that the reader is asked to be as creative as the poet when reading. Ashbery’s poetry is active and precise. Dickman’s is passive and vague.
    The first passage you quote
    We sit for an hour
    while she tells me how unreasonable I’ve been,
    crying in the checkout line,
    refusing to eat, refusing to shower,
    all the smoking and all the drinking.
    does what all bad writing does: it tells, it does not show. Yes, these are behaviors broadly symptomatic of grief but if Dickman is operating in such an open and humane way, he certainly avoids connecting us to the specificity of his situation. Maybe “crying in Whole Foods,” “refusing the Big Mac,” and “all the American Spirits and all the Negro Modelos” might have suited better not just the poem but Dickman’s brand-name-dropping style.
    I’m glad you quoted the end of “Grief” in this second passage because it gives us an opportunity to discuss the endings of these poems
    so I am aware of each syllable, each vowel
    wrapping around the bones like new muscle,
    the sound of that person’s body
    and how reckless it is,
    how careless that his name is in one pile and not the other
    That is a strong passage, if only in comparison to the rest of the poem. Dickman’s poems finish “strong,” yes, because that is the last thing a listener, and I guess Dickman thinks, a reader, is left with. The poems pile on a lot of forgettable and leave you with a sliver of memorable. I can’t quite recall the poet who advised: “Only the ending matters.” Can you remind me?
    What I am left with after reading “Grief” is not a connection with the poet’s grief nor my own, but the empty feeling that the poet simply wanted to write a poem called “Grief” without mining his own experience to do so. Two good alternatives to this poem would be Anne Porter’s “For My Son Johnny” and Frank Bidart’s “To the Dead.”
    I look forward to more of your thoughts once you’ve read through the whole of All-American Poem. If you happen to finish it of course. You wrote a book on James Joyce (Joyce—A Clew) yet claim in your interview on Here Comes Everybody (Question #6) to have never “read Finnegans Wake and I’m not so sure I read all Ulysses. This surprises even me because I wrote a book about Joyce. The reason I haven’t is that I found Joyce too greedy. I have my own life to live.”
    So. James Joyce, whom you have not read thoroughly: greedy. Matthew Dickman, whom you have not read thoroughly either: generous.

  • On March 23, 2009 at 7:26 am Lytton Smith wrote:

    Thomas: sorry for misrepresenting you; I’m really glad you cleared that up, too! Especially because I think the way you put in in your last paragraph is great “you can’t begin to be taken seriously if you won’t quote your subject a little bit. If a review doesn’t quote substantially from its subject, that review should not be trusted.” My bone of contention with some of the reviews of the Dickman book is not that they like it but that they assume it to be like Whitman without explaining how, and your sentences above articulate that problem really usefully.

  • On March 23, 2009 at 9:30 am Henry Gould wrote:

    EMOTIONAL POEM
    You know what it’s like :
    you’re on the job, cleaning Jim Claggum’s molars,
    or wiping tables at Jay-Zee’s Burgers,
    and the sun is up in a big gray mop of clouds out there
    behind the plate glass, trying without success
    to get through to you : it’s then
    the Emotional Poem comes tumbling in,
    wearing a big red Heart on its sleeve, saying
    Henry! Henry! Read me! Love me! I’m your Emotional Poem!
    This happened to me just this morning :
    I had to stop what I was doing,
    I had to give my Emotional Poem a great big hug
    to make it go away.

  • On March 23, 2009 at 9:40 am thomas brady wrote:

    Lytton,
    Thanks for being a good sport, and you are right: assumptions, not reasons, tend to rule these days.
    I notice above that Mr. Schiavo replied to the person who bothered to quote Dickman’s poetry.
    I agree with Michael that “Grief” is self-indulgent; Dickman finds a nice conceit, but then milks it in a vague way.
    Grief as a “purple gorilla” immediately reminded me of the Alan Tate school, the Iowa Worskhop Smirk Poem which blossomed in the 1980s. OK, but I went with it, and I liked this:
    You must offer her what’s left
    of your dinner, the book you were trying to finish
    you must put aside
    I was reminded of Dante in his ‘Vita Nuova’ when his appetite starts weeping because it knows it will suffer now that the poet has fallen in love with Beatrice.
    But then I felt the poem lost focus (about the time the poet lies down on the bed and unlocks the door) and by the time I got to the part where Dickman repeats the ‘offer her what’s left of your dinner’ trope with the blatant “refusing to eat,” I really thought he had lost all control of the poem. The conceit becomes sprawling and vague; rather than a Marvell-like strengthening, there is watering-down; the gorilla-as-grief suddenly seems to be playing too many parts, and Dickman wants to go from clever/cute to grief-stricken too fast. I don’t believe the poet’s sincerity; the conceit is finally a costume only.
    Thomas

  • On March 23, 2009 at 10:27 am thomas brady wrote:

    Henry,
    Is that your poem? You’ve captured the tone spot on.
    Alan Tate is known for it, but it can be traced at least as far back as 19th century Paris.
    “But another French poet, Jules Laforgue, 19 yrs younger than Corbiere, had independently developed a tone and technique –poignant-ironic, grandiose-slangy, scurrilous-naïve…”
    –Edmund Wilson, ‘Axel’s Castle’ on TS Eliot.
    Here’s what I want. Your poem opens a new Philip Roth novel with a modern protaganist-poet we’ll call Walt Dickman, who gets a sex-change operation during the course of the novel, changing his name to Emily Dickman.
    Do you think Roth will do it? It could be the very thing. A poignant hoot.
    Thomas

  • On March 23, 2009 at 11:08 am Henry Gould wrote:

    BEST-SELLING POEM FOR PHILIP ROTH NOVEL, OR
    WHO THE &^%$ IS ALAN TATE
    PART ONE
    It was one of those evenings,
    you know what I mean – there’ll be another one tonight.
    Frederick was getting it on
    with his imaginary friend
    (let’s call her Frederika 2)
    while watching Reality TV
    on Channel Zillion, when out of the blue
    she
    sd to him
    “you look like a cross between Jules Laforgue & Philip Roth, Walt”.
    Frederick did a double-take
    He’d never been called Walt before
    Just then the credits came on. “Frederika,
    I’m going to write you a poem about that –
    it will show up on your screen
    without warning – ”
    Then Frederika said, April Fools
    That’s when Frederick began to cry like a chihuahua on drexedril
    – to be continued –

  • On March 23, 2009 at 11:29 am Jenna wrote:

    Unless there’s some unfortunate soul you’re dumping on I don’t know about, I believe it’s Allen Tate, not Alan Tate. And I have absolutely no need for a poignant hoot. Please. Don’t.

  • On March 23, 2009 at 12:31 pm Jenna wrote:

    (slumps head on desk, cries)

  • On March 23, 2009 at 12:48 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Jenna,
    I think a book could be written on Allan v. Allen and how Allan is alien to Allen and Allen is alien to Allan. I’m always telling people, ‘Hey, it’s Edgar Allan Poe, not Edgar Allen Poe” but I see Edgar Allen Poe as much as ever (it’s stunning how ineffectual I am) so this is my karma, I guess.
    I don’t know where ‘Alan’ came from (maybe I was thinking of Aladin?) but I gotta say Alan Tate sure *looks* better than Allen Tate.
    OK, forget the Philip Roth idea.
    Let’s ask Allen Tate to change his name to Alan Tate.
    Not only does ‘Alan Tate’ look more literary, it would save me a great deal of embarrassment.
    Thomas

  • On March 23, 2009 at 1:21 pm Mairead wrote:

    Michael, thank you for your response. In the case of this particular poem we will have to be left disagreeing – Dickman’s penchant for endings simply does it for me, as “how reckless it is” states perfectly how I feel about the particular griefs/names in my own life.
    However, you wrote:
    “I look forward to more of your thoughts once you’ve read through the whole of All-American Poem. If you happen to finish it of course. You wrote a book on James Joyce (Joyce—A Clew) yet claim in your interview on Here Comes Everybody (Question #6) to have never “read Finnegans Wake and I’m not so sure I read all Ulysses. This surprises even me because I wrote a book about Joyce. The reason I haven’t is that I found Joyce too greedy. I have my own life to live.”
    So. James Joyce, whom you have not read thoroughly: greedy. Matthew Dickman, whom you have not read thoroughly either: generous.”
    Well, wow. Thanks for googling my first name and picking the first writer who showed up. I am not Mairead Byrne (I had to look up the book you mentioned to figure out what the hell you were talking about) and thank God for that. (Especially since I have, you know, thank you very much, blah blah blah, read Ulysses and love Joyce.) Would you mind not assigning me other people’s identities? I’d appreciate it very much, I have quite enough to handle with my own.

  • On March 23, 2009 at 1:25 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    DICKMAN BROTHERS THANK-YOU POEM FOR JENNA
    Jenna, you know how the world is smaller than a Dagwood sandwich,
    and even though you and I may be a continent apart,
    there is only one “L” missing from the name ALAN
    – that’s only one letter, our of 26! (we’ll
    skip the “E” for now) –
    and this reminds me of the sunset I saw once over Bodega one October,
    when the surf was pounding like the black sand of Puerto Vallarte,
    and a flock of bluejays poured out of the horizon, as if
    they were looking for a place to make a phone call to someone very far away,
    without realizing that phone booths are a thing of the past,
    gone forever –
    I just wanted to tell you this, Jenna, because you made me happy
    by correcting the spelling of the famous Southern Agrarian Poet Allen Tate for me,
    a poet whom I had read about in boring English class back in Hoosatonic,
    when my brother & I were tow-headed troublemakers, and Jenna
    was the name of our English teacher (Ms. Jennifer M. Thibault, to be exact) –
    I will never forget 8th grade English class, since my dear twin brother
    and future poetry collaborator
    stapled my left hand to my desk while Ms. Thibault was at the blackboard,
    and I still have the scars to remind me –
    that’s life – we’re all stapled together in it –
    and now I just have one last request, Jenna –
    please, please –
    in memory of Ms. Thibault and my scarred left hand – please
    staple this thank-you poem to your computer screen,
    and memorize it, just for me…. thank you…

  • On March 23, 2009 at 1:52 pm Doodle wrote:

    Did someone mentione Michael Robbins’ “Alien vs. Predator?” Maybe it should be emended to “Allen vs. Predator.”

  • On March 23, 2009 at 2:44 pm Michael wrote:

    Mairead: my deepest apologies for the last two paragraphs of my post. As you say, however, we will be left to disagree on the quality of Dickman’s poems and how they end.

  • On March 23, 2009 at 3:49 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Doh!
    James Tate, the son. I’m sorry. No more jokes.
    Henry, Jenna, everyone, a thousand apologies.
    I even apologize to the Dickmans.
    And to you, my dear James Tate, the author of so many funny poems!
    I am yours, etc
    Thomas

  • On March 23, 2009 at 4:09 pm o. imoan wrote:

    critics! doomed to remain the bourbons of the world of art—forgetting nothing, learning nothing.
    if criticism be a science, contrast its progress with that of any other—we know nothing.
    unhappily, we do not seem to know even that. the multiplication of sects is not apt to
    multiply tolerance. it is only natural that criticism, as it grows more chaotic, should grow
    more dogmatic as well.
    calling a poem “good” means..?
    -“i value it”
    -“many education people have valued it for many years past”
    -“i think many educated people will value it for many years to come”
    so.. a critical judgment is either…
    -autobiography
    -history
    -future guess
    what about the reader’s business to value works for himself, while the critics sole concern
    is with interpretation?
    where aesthetics ends and ethics begins…
    these days it’s easy to say what is good poetry, and strangely rare to write it
    for the greeks, the root of good living was to temper good sense with poetic imagination;
    the root of good poetry, to temper poetic imagination with good sense.
    a psycho-analyst’s definition of mental health: a state of mind tormented by no repressions,
    no worms of conscience, no senses of guilt
    those greeks were too crudely didactic! now on to new moralities, let’s consider not our health,
    but holiness; not sanity, but sin! as morality lost its poetry, poetry lost its morale, with the
    eventual undoing of both.
    ahh let us take a moment to revel in the arrival of the renaissance, and with it in full force, the critics, who sought to save literature from the ethical attacks of plato and the puritans; and to subject it instead to the aesthetic rules of aristotle and the pedants. to be “good”, poetry must now observe the laws of god on the one hand and of the ancients on the other; but especially of the ancients.
    then against these ancients, as the renaissance in its turn grows old, the moderns grow rebellious. the classical scholar begins to carry less weight than the man of the world, and never had it been so easy to know what was good poetry, and what was not; never was it to be so easy again. critics were judges administering the law of an enlightened hand, disagreeing about the applications, not the principles, of the law.
    thomas wharton can still speak, without irony, of living “in the days of writing by rule”, when “critical taste is universally diffused”.
    we amid our critical anarchy may mingle with our amusement a touch, perhaps, of regret.
    what difference is there between fiction and deceit? between the writer who builds a complete new world of his own, and the writer who merely reshuffles autobiographical experiences.
    the ordinary man is too highbrow-beaten, with religious instincts, who wants not critics but mystagogues—not for the truth of what they are told, but for its tune. they like what sounds profound, even if it is largely lobbing pebbles down an empty well.
    genius remains wonderful enough for what it does, without rhapsodies over what it doesn’t
    the ben jonsons and their just-say-no-to-confessio protests consider these dickmans dangerously attractive / liable to damage young writers who might be tempted to imitate
    wisdom to the wise
    and pley to hem that lust to pleye
    two readers can no more have identical impressions than two mothers could have identical children. the same person cannot read the same poem twice—he will have changed in the interval.
    poetry is not confirmed through microscopes, it builds itseld a body next our hearts, out of memories and emotions that are ours alone. that is why it is difficult to make the art of criticism in any sense a science.
    the art of men is like the play of animals; but the play of animals is not only a play; it is a rehearsal of life, a quickening of eye and a strengthening of sinew for struggles to come.
    aristophanes did not question that euripedes was brilliant; he was concerned because he thought him a brilliant will-o’-the-wisp, and the more brilliant, the worse. he did not deny he was intoxicating; he denied that intoxication was of necessity a good state of mind. he was wrong, you say? but wrong in principle? he was one-sided? are you so sure you are not?
    “it is indeed a strange thing,” mused the lady murasaki in japan 1,000 years ago, “that a perfectly ordinary remark, if made in a quiet colourless voice, may seem original and interesting; for instance, in conversations about poetry, some quite commonplace piece of criticism will be accepted as profound, merely because it is made in a particular tone of voice”.
    the values common to good living and good poetry seem to me not so much matters of what used to be called “virtue” as, above all, of sane vitality.
    let us face the day when every leap of the heart that literature gives us is duly charted and analysed in coloured inks; but that day is not yet in sight. and i wouldn’t desire it. its dawn may well prove a triumph for science rather than for art—the more we discover of what we call the “unconscious”, the more we may doubt the benefit of dragging up into the light of consciousness impulses that for the poets and readers of 3,000 years have worked unconsciously. they were wiser than they knew; we may not prove so much wiser when we know.
    “what i have sought in criticism has been to bring to it a certain charm, and at the same time more reality; in a word, both poetry and physiology”
    sainte-beuve
    *
    we need more, not less, mixing of poetry with the common ways of life.
    *
    Whose sense in so evil consort, their stepdame Nature lays,
    That ravishing delight in them most sweet tunes do not raise;
    Or if they do delight therein, yet are so cloyed with wit,
    As with sententious lips to set a title vain on it:
    O let them hear these sacred tunes, and learn in wonder’s schools,
    To be (in things past bounds of wit) fools, if they be not fools.
    -sir philip sidney

  • On March 23, 2009 at 9:06 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    DICKMANESQUE POEM DEDICATED TO THE HONOR OF THOMAS BRADY & O.IMOAN
    O the Common Ways, of Late, of Teat & Tate!
    Gambols of Jims, Janes, Alans – Jesting Anonyms!
    – Gerard Manley Hoopskirt
    I was reading a poem by Emily Dickinson out loud
    to my poodle Genevieve, when she started to cry.
    Nobody knows what it’s like to hear a dog cry about a poem
    (nobody knows but Jim Tate). The Common Ways of Life
    lead not to poetry, these days. More likely, to game shows
    and video games, sorry to say – but we will rectify that
    with poems about game shows & video games.
    Common Ways! Ways of the Common!
    O Common Ways of the Ways of the Common Way!
    O Snores of the Small Rhyme Dictionary!
    O Imagination of Sales Figures! Lucky Holiday for Popular Bob, the Human Echo Chamber!
    A famous duck once trundled into Boston Common with her brood
    of lil duckiling-chiles…. you-all knows the story, hon! Up yar Boston Way –
    the Commons Way, sez they! Long way from Alabama, chile,
    where crocodiles speak Farsi, and mosquitoes speak Buzz-Sawwi….
    a long, longs way from my home, lil Yam o mine. The duck was named
    Col. Louise Farnsworth III. She was born on an airplane over Colorado in 1922,
    believe it or not. The plane was a twin-engine Scooter-Hop,
    mfr. Tungsten Ohio (still operating). It was missing one engine, but the pilot
    was all there, thankfully. He was also a midwife, thankfully. The End.

  • On March 24, 2009 at 8:12 am ac wrote:

    EMOTIONAL POEM is a great poem.
    Serious. My day is better now. Thank you.

  • On March 24, 2009 at 10:24 am O. IMOAN wrote:

    ideal esthetic: les enfants du paradis(1945) gummo(1997)

  • On March 24, 2009 at 10:31 am thomas brady wrote:

    Henry,
    You are amazing!
    O. Imoan,
    The following is a terrific summary:
    “those greeks were too crudely didactic! now on to new moralities, let’s consider not our health,
    but holiness; not sanity, but sin! as morality lost its poetry, poetry lost its morale, with the
    eventual undoing of both.
    ahh let us take a moment to revel in the arrival of the renaissance, and with it in full force, the critics, who sought to save literature from the ethical attacks of plato and the puritans; and to subject it instead to the aesthetic rules of aristotle and the pedants. to be “good”, poetry must now observe the laws of god on the one hand and of the ancients on the other; but especially of the ancients.
    then against these ancients, as the renaissance in its turn grows old, the moderns grow rebellious. the classical scholar begins to carry less weight than the man of the world…”
    Thomas
    P.S.
    Since everyone is getting so creative all of a sudden, here’s a poem with footnotes featuring none other than Allen Tate!!!
    HOW MANY LAUREATES CAN DANCE ON THE HEAD OF A PINSKY?
    “Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe” –John Lennon
    How many laureates can dance on the head of a Pinsky?
    Modernists have blocked up the Hall.
    Search every Engle, try every Bell, there’s no Justice at Iowa.
    And what Haas Stanford got? The Winters of our discontent.
    The Brooks (Cleanth and Van) are frozen, the public’s deserted,
    Yet the blurbs go Trilling on, the Criterion’s applied to a Dial in the costume of an Egoist.
    Cubism at the court of James. Who’s Kenner’s son?
    Raise your Stein to Whitman’s mothers and Ruskin’s stones.
    Yankee traitor went to London. Harvard, Oxford, God, Lord.
    Make it new, critics! College for poets, poets for college.
    Re-Joyce and be naughty. Unreadable, banned, famous.
    Poems are taken Ransom; Shelley sings no Moore.
    The Southern sublime at Vanderbilt.
    Sir Bishop Lowell reminds you, Williams, not Will. The rest is Donne.
    How many rabbits in the Warren? Shine, golden dawn.
    What’s your favorite cracker, Tate or Graham?
    Shun the Rhooshuns, frigidly pretend authority in a Romance tongue.
    You’re in my Faber. The ode to Auden damns the Berry to Ash.
    Where shall I put these poems, now? The Bloom’s off the Rosenthal.
    Eliot writes like an old hag.
    Ezra Pound is a douchebag.
    notes:
    1.Pinksy, 2.Haas, 3.Wendell Berry, 4.Donald Justice all students of 5.Yvor Winters (Stanford U.) New Critic and notorious Romantic Poet & Edgar Poe-hater.
    6.Paul Engle, studied at Oxford like all the New Critics, began Iowa Worskshop
    7.Cleanth Brooks, New Critic, friend of Pound, 8. Van Wyck Brooks, New England renaissance scholar, Harvard critic, won Dial Prize in the 20s when Moore, Pound, Williams, Eliot, Cummings, Burke given that honor.
    9.Marvin Bell and Donald Justice taught at Iowa Workshop for years, Justice mentored 10.Jorie Graham.
    11.Lionell Trilling, liberal/conservative bore, 12.James-Henry James, praised by 13. Ezra Pound, William James, Emerson’s godson, taught Santayana at Harvard who taught Eliot. 14. Hugh Kenner, attacked Millay, praised Pound, 15.Gertrude Stein also taught by Santayana at Harvard.
    16. Whitman, like almost all American writers, mostly ignored by New Critics, but child of Emerson and pre-Raphaelites, 17. Ruskin, author of ‘Stones of Venice,’ quirky, pro-Gothic critic, supported pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, 18. James Joyce, Irish writer, published by Pound, 19. John Crowe Ransom, Southern Agrarian, New Critic, led professionalization of new writing which invaded Academy as crackpot Modernists/New Critics failed to get a hearing with the actual public.
    20. Shelley, Romantic poet, attacked, together with many great writers, including Milton, Shakespeare, Poe, et al, by 21. T.S. Eliot, New Critics, Modernists, 22. Marianne Moore, editor of Dial, 1925-9 one of the few women tolerated by the Modernist ‘revolution,’ 23. Elizabeth Bishop, poet, friend of Robert Lowell, championed by pro-Pound and pro-WC Williams.
    24. M.L. Rosenthal, Lowell also studied with Ransom at Kenyon college after Harvard. 25. Will refers to Shakespeare, who was dismissed by Pound, 26. Donne championed by TS Eliot, who also damned many great writers as well, 27. Robert Penn Warren, part of Vanderbilt, Rhodes Scholar, Southern Agrarian clique, wrote textbook “Understanding Poetry” with Cleanth Brooks, the post-war text in universities which championed modernism, golden dawn, occult society of W.B. Yeats, Pound married daughter of Yeats’ dearest woman friend
    28. Allen Tate, poet, Southern Agrarian, and New Critic who attacked professors of literary history, softening up the Academy for its eventual take-over, Jorie Graham, poet, ‘the Rhooshuns’ was a term Pound used in his rant, “How To Read,” to dismiss all Russian literature; Pound would later broadcast for the Axis powers in World War Two, Faber was Eliot’s publisher,
    29. Auden, poet annointed by Eliot, later Auden annoints 30. Ashbery, 31. Ash, poet, anthologized a great deal with Ashbery in early years of Best American Poetry. 32. Harold Bloom, critic, and Poe-hater, repeating Poe attacks by Winters, Henry James, Eliot, Aldous Huxley, DH Lawrence, Yeats, Joseph Wood Krutch, Pound, Ralph Waldo Emerson, etc

  • On March 24, 2009 at 11:04 am JMWS wrote:

    Wow. Schiavo, you just had your a*! handed to you by Mairead. If that’s the kind of care you employ when writing, well, uh, hmm. You seem, as evidenced by your review and the weird aggression you displayed, incorrectly, toward Mairead, kinda trigger happy. A little loose canon-y.
    And what’s with the self-satisfied, knowing comment here: “does what all bad writing does: it tells, it does not show.” That sounds like guru talk; since when is it some kind of maxim that all good writing shows and doesn’t tell? Maybe the kind of writing you enjoy, sure, but are you seriously being that prescriptive?

  • On March 24, 2009 at 11:31 am Jenna wrote:

    You’re welcome, Henry. I think. Though now I wonder: When does a poem in the comments qualify as spam? Soon? Never? Never too soon? Harriet, keep on your guard! These boys will stop at nothing to foist their poignant hoots on us all. But thankfully there is the part of the lizard brain that advises: “Do not read. Scroll, scroll, scroll.” Heed the lizard, gentle readers.
    Also: Let us now savor Schiavo’s ridiculousness proven here beyond doubt. A fine google researcher, that one!

  • On March 24, 2009 at 12:01 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Jenna,
    I believe the Dickman Bros. Poetry Consortium as a whole qualifies as spam. But that’s just my opinion. My apologies if the reading of this kind of poetry triggers spasmodic poignant hoots on my part, I will try to keep them to myself in future. Oh-oh… here’s comes another one….
    A PLAN FOR AMERICAN POETRY
    Say it’s like this : you are never far from home
    when your home is a poem. That’s why
    my twin brother Willie & I became poets :
    we were born in a poem cradle. The cradle was
    made of gopher wood, from the Gopher State,
    and our mother was a poem squirrel, who happened
    to have a twin sister (Prosaica), who happened
    to be an editor at MdGuffey Twin Bros. Publishing House
    of New York New York. I love New York, because
    it’s a Twin City (New York, New York!) and
    full of publishing houses – full of published squirrels!
    New York, New York! When I look at my twin brother Willie
    I immediately burst into verse – & he does likewise!
    Sometimes we argue about who gets to be the secretary.
    But it all works out, and if he doesn’t like one of my poems,
    or I don’t like his, we just switch names, or
    say they were written by Anonymous Squirrel Program
    (which is downloadable). You are never far form home
    when you are a squirrel!
    *
    – OK, no more creative efforts. I am fully under control. Farewell, Travis Nichols Post, & all my devoted Reader Ships.

  • On March 24, 2009 at 12:17 pm Tom Harr wrote:

    What can the practice of the middle–class, avant–garde artist offer to a downpressed and (formally) uneducated people who need poetry, beauty, as much as, or more than, any?
    Adrienne Rich, Boston Review, March/April 2009

  • On March 24, 2009 at 12:29 pm Travis Nichols wrote:

    Henry,
    Just for the record, I’m enjoying your use of the space. Seriously!! It’s fine. No, really. It’s fine. Maybe not quite a poignant hoot, but a nice “tonal shift,” as they say.
    Jenna,
    I think Henry is secretly challenging you to a poem/comment battle. I’m fully prepared to gather friends around in a circle and periodically yell, “ooooooooh” while covering my agape mouth with my hand if necessary. Just let me know.
    -Travis

  • On March 24, 2009 at 1:19 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Play on, Henry, play on.
    Melt Jenna’s certitude, a certitude so dazzling it could blind us all.

  • On March 24, 2009 at 1:43 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    POEM FOR EVERY MAIREAD BY DICKMANS 1 & 2
    Mairead…. we love every Mairead.
    We love you when you are confusing, because
    confusion is beautiful, like when I confuse my red toothbrush
    with my twin brother’s red toothbrush – because it makes me think
    of every Mairead’s red, red hair.
    We love Mairead because we thought there was only ONE Mairead,
    who comes from Ireland (the stars come from Ireland,
    says Wally Stevens, our uncle, who is also an
    identical twin, born at the very same moment
    as his lookalike horse christened Walter) but
    now we find there are infinite braids of Maireads,
    all of them poets in their hearts, which are also
    infinite –
    but most of all,
    we love Mairead because
    her name sounds like MY READ –
    which reminds us that every one of the
    unique and individual infinite Maireads
    is one of MY READERS (at least
    that’s what our agent, Polly Gargantua,
    who is also an identical twin, told us –
    twice, to be exact –

  • On March 24, 2009 at 3:45 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Henry, is it too late
    To learn the facts of Allen Tate?
    Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom,
    And the New Criticism?
    Is James Tate
    To be my fate?
    The father’s reputation fades
    As will my ignorance,
    The Dickman dance
    Hidden by the Everglades.

  • On March 24, 2009 at 3:46 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    I remember Subsubpoetics, so long ago, a glorious, sub rosa listserv whose thrilling, esoteric, and historic contents have, alas (as papyri in a great fire), forever ceased to be…
    In that place, Henry Gould and Jordan Davis would oft engage the other in courtly doggerel-duel, and this was always most titillating, for sure. I tried to play once and got trounced, I do recall. (It is a good and medieval word, “trounced”; it is what Mr. Gould is doing to the twin Dickmans!)
    So these are terrific Sir Gould, even though, I’m afraid, Mairead is not pronounced My Read, for it’s pronounced My Raid. Or so I think.
    But no matter: It is great satire you are making here. And a fine example of how the burlesque can poetically exceed that which it burlesquiotes. Even without really trying.
    bravo to the Launce with his parodic lance! A little booke!
    Kent

  • On March 24, 2009 at 8:07 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    I WAS FORMED IN THE WOMB BEFORE I WAS DICKMAN
    I was formed in the womb before I was Dickman.
    Before I was Dickman, I was Dickman-Dickman;
    I was my brother; I was you, you were me.
    I was me.
    I’m still me. & you, they tell me, are still you –
    after all the cancelled checks, dates, diamond tiaras, classes, reservations, library holds,
    hopes. dreams, reality-checks, BMWs, financial systems… I’m still me, you’re still you.
    Even though you won’t return my calls,
    won’t even return my laundry…
    One grain of sand, as the song has it –
    Odetta, you were my mystery song.
    One drop of water
    in the deep blue sea.
    This is my poem for you from before I was Dickman –
    when I was you, and you were my poem,
    and Odetta was my song.
    This is my song.
    This is my cancelled check.

  • On March 24, 2009 at 8:20 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    This picking on the Dickman brothers is hilarious, as is the tormenting of any egotistical poet. Slap Ashbery! Trounce Wright! Smack down Muldoon or Kooser!
    Fair play for public figures.
    But picking on Mairead is unjust and unseemly. You are behaving like bullies.

  • On March 24, 2009 at 10:02 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Gary, I don’t mean to pick on Mairead – not at all ! & I’m sorry if she or anybody takes it that way. She is perfectly entitled to her opinions about this poet or that. I just thought the Mairead confusion was funny. I was just as confused as Michael Schiavo – & I bet 90% of the other people reading this blog – since Mairead Byrne is the poet who comes to mind, & we doofy Americans don’t know that many Maireads in general (I don’t, anyway. I do happen to know Mairead Byrne, though – we live in the same town, we’ve given readings together, & so on.) If Mairead-who-is-not-Byrne will forgive us our confusion, well, I will be happy.
    Hey, I don’t even know the Dickman Bros. poetry. Michael’s review simply ignited a poignant serfies of hoots on my part about a certain kind of ingratiating poetry which I don’t happen to like.

  • On March 24, 2009 at 10:38 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    JOHN ASHBERY IS A BIG FAT IDIOT
    Let me tell you about the trees
    there in the saturnine park, or shall we say
    left field. Since we don’t know beans
    about Col. Chickenhead or his corral, neither
    will we dream anymore of parvenues in detergent.
    Our dreams are rash, if you want to know :
    where was I? Our pleated subsidies or
    Californian hubbub & so forth.
    Meanwhile Edgar was tracing the curious path of a noodle
    that had flown from his nose during a tremendous fit of laughter.
    Ha! I said, and immediately swallowed my chariot (or
    chair, if you will. Or 2 chairs.). & the heavens will open
    when it’s time to collect the Lincoln penny
    from Louise, the harbormaster’s neice.
    (p.s. & copper will rust green, if you know
    if you know what they meant.)

  • On March 24, 2009 at 10:57 pm Mary Meriam wrote:

    Sorry to everyone else, but the only one I read on this whole thread is Henry. Thanks for the laughs, Henry. These are truly brilliant and hilarious.

  • On March 25, 2009 at 11:21 am thomas brady wrote:

    Henry Gould, you are gold.
    Odetta. I even know the LP you reference.
    You are not related, by any chance, to John Gould Fletcher?
    He is the sole poet who was both an Imagist in London and a Fugitive in Tennessee. The Imagists and the Fugitives are widely considered the two most important groups in 20th century poetry and there is a strong undercurrent of connection between the two.
    I’m no fan of the Imagists, and I doubt the Dickmans are either, but the Fugitives produced some of the worst poetry ever written. The best of their verse was produced by John Crowe Ransom, but even at his best Ransom was morbid in a Victorian nightmare sort of way, far more morbid than Poe ever was.
    Allen Tate may have been the worst of the worst. He deserves some kind of Edward Bulwer-Lytton Award for Worst Poet Ever.
    Here’s a sample of Allen Tate’s poetry. I don’t care what you think about Dickman. Look at this:
    It had an autumn smell
    And that was how I knew
    That I was down a well:
    I was no longer young;
    My lips were numb and blue,
    The air was like find sand
    In a butcher’s stall
    Or pumice to the tongue:
    And when I raised my hand
    I stood in the empty hall.
    Even Robert Penn Warren’s much anthologized “Bearded Oaks” is a candidate for Worst Poem Ever. Look at the first stanza:
    The oaks, how subtle and marine,
    Bearded, and all the layered light
    Above them swims; and thus the scene,
    Recessed, awaits the positive night.
    “How subtle” those oaks were! Boy, they were “subtle,” weren’t they? And “marine!” The “layered light above them swims,” that’s how “marine” they were! “And thus the scene, recessed, awaits the positive night.” Good grief.
    Was the Fugitive School the worst ever, or what?
    Can I hear a Yes?
    CAN I HEAR A YES?

  • On March 25, 2009 at 12:16 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    I don’t know, Thomas, if I’m related to John Gould Fletcher. There are a lot of Goulds, spread across wide swaths of These States like a flock of obstreperous geese. But the two of us do seem to share the “minor poet” gene (which strictly alternates, generationally, with the Major Poet gene… oh well, c’est la guerre, as my father, John Gould, is fond of saying).
    Gosh, that last bit from RP Warren sounds like part of my own Terrible Quatrain series. I can see why they were called “Fugitives”…. I’d better high-tail it out of here.

  • On March 25, 2009 at 2:40 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Henry,
    The Allen Tate sample is not some obscure piece of juvenilia, either; it’s from an anthology of Fugitive poetry by the scholar William Pratt.
    As for John Gould Fletcher:
    “Born in Little Rock, Arkansas to a prominent family, John Gould Fletcher entered Harvard University in 1903 to study law. Following the death of his father in 1906, Fletcher withdrew from Harvard to pursue a career as a poet. Supported by the money left to him by his father, he left for Europe and settled in London where he self-published five volumes of poetry in 1913. Influenced first by Ezra Pound and then by Amy Lowell, he became well-known as an Imagist poet with the publication of five additional volumes of poetry and was featured prominently in the annual ‘Some Imagist Poets’ anthologies. Fletcher married Florence Emily “Daisy” Arbuthnot in 1916. Influenced by the poetry of William Blake and by Oriental art and religion, Fletcher’s poetry took on religious undertones for his next three volumes of poetry. He also acquired a reputation as a literary journalist and befriended T. S. Eliot. Fletcher visited Nashville, Tennessee in 1927 as a lecturer and met John Crowe Ransom. He was invited to contribute an essay to the Agrarian manifesto ‘I’ll Take My Stand’ and became a strong supporter of the Agrarian movement. He returned to Little Rock in 1933. After his divorce from Florence Arbuthnot, he married Charlie May Simon. A life-long sufferer from depression, Fletcher drowned himself in 1950.”
    from Vanderbilt U. Archives
    I’ve always been puzzled how the Agrarian movement turned into New Criticism.
    As for the name “fugitive” for the Fugitive School, apparently even the group was not exactly sure where “Fugitive” came from, but I always assumed it came from the following, written by N.P. WIllis, introducing Poe’s ‘The Raven':
    “We are permitted to copy (in advance of publication) from the 2d No. of the American Review, the following remarkable poem by EDGAR POE. In our opinion, it is the most effective single example of “fugitive poetry” ever published in this country; and unsurpassed in English poetry for subtle conception, masterly ingenuity of versification, and consistent, sustaining of imaginative lift and “pokerishness.” It is one of these “dainties bred in a book” which we feed on. It will stick to the memory of everybody who reads it.”
    Yours,
    Thomas

  • On March 26, 2009 at 10:29 am thomas brady wrote:

    THE REASONABLE DIONYSIAN
    Now, back to the Dickmans.
    John Gallaher’s blog explores the controversy.
    http://jjgallaher.blogspot.com/2009/03
    Some interesting comments follow Gallaher’s essay. Does Michael Schiavo know Dickman? Those sorts of issues are raised.
    And there’s Bill Knott again, defending Dickman’s work in a non-academic, non-theoretical way. OK, fine. But poetry shouldn’t make us stupid. Some have compared poetry to wine, and poetry can intoxicate us, we don’t have to think about it, sure, but critical responses, even negative ones, need not be dismissed for this reason; after all, “in vino veritas.”
    Gallaher quotes Dickman’s poem “Country Music” in full, which was presented with an intro by Major Jackson in ‘The Boston Review.’
    Looking at this poem, it’s pretty easy to see the appeal of Dickman’s work, or more importantly, his strategy, which is, essentially, a Charles Bukowski one, in which testosterone confesses; the hopeless, helpless, punch drunk male tells it like it is.
    Here’s Dickman from “Country Music:”
    “But I’ve been drinking. I’m a little messed up
    and there’s something about cigars and bourbon I no longer want
    to be a part of. I remember how Kate would slip out
    of her jeans, her bra. How she appled my body;
    all that sweet skin and core, the full mouth and pulp.
    She was like a country song
    playing underneath an Egyptian cotton sheet, the easy kindness
    of her body finding its way into mine.
    But I have a father somewhere. I have a way
    I’m supposed to walk down the street like a violent decision
    that hasn’t been made yet.
    I don’t care how many hours you put in
    weeding the garden
    or how much you love modern dance. You’ll still slip back
    into your knuckles.
    You can carry your groceries home in your public radio tote bag.
    You can organize a book club.
    You can date an Indonesian hippie with dread-locks
    but you are never far from breaking someone’s jaw.”
    So, as we can see from this excerpt, here is the important confession:
    “‘But I’ve been drinking.’”
    He’s not just writing a poem. He’s drinking and writing a poem.
    There’s the Dionysian. But it’s a reasonable Dionysian. Here’s the secret of Dickman’s ‘poetic appeal.’ He’s been drinking, and yet he can also deliver a common-sense lecture:
    “I don’t care how many hours you put in/weeding the garden/or how much you love modern dance. You’ll still slip back/into your knuckles.”
    That’s the strategy in a nutshell. The Reasonable Dionysian.
    Then Dickman ups the ante in “Country Music” a little bit and makes a full confession, leaving behind the drunken lecture to tell the truth about himself:
    “When I was twenty-three I went to a party,
    drank two Coronas, and slapped my girlfriend across the face.”
    The poem ends with the poet saying he’s sorry, “I wanted someone to beat me” and fades away as it immerses itself in the poet’s seedy environment. This bit of Rousseau-ean apology, however, feels fake to me, just in terms of pure dramatic technique.
    How in the world in this mad, ‘in-the-moment,’ ignoble act of slapping his girlfriend across the face, do things slow down enough for the poet to overhear a detailed conversation between “two skater kids” so that he can end the poem with someone else’s conversation, someone else’s life, a stabbing which happened to someone else “at the mall?” It seems contrived, which is deadly for what Dickman is trying to do. Sure it feels like a cop-out, Dickman saying, “I’m bad, I slapped my girlfriend, but things are bad all over, a stabbing at the mall, etc,” but what’s worse is the aesthetic choice that’s made in ending the poem this way.
    This is the problem with the Reasonable Dionysian strategy. For us to believe, or sympathize with, the ‘reason’ of the ‘Dionysian’ poet, the Dionysian aspect can never seem contrived or faked or swept aside for some aesthetic purpose, as it clearly is at the end of “Country Music.” Not that an aesthetic triumph cannot bring a certain Dionysian aspect along with it, but it’s not easy to do. The sober reader is not easily fooled, and “at the mall” as a final line is certainly no aesthetic triumph. It may qualify as gossip, as we overhear the” two skater kids” “talking about a friend,” but the choice to make it end the poem is still an aesthetic one, and aesthetic choices drive the Reasonable Dionysian’s fate, just as it does for all of us.
    I wanted someone to beat me.
    I wanted to get thrown into the traffic
    I had made of my life,
    to go flying over the couch
    where two skater kids were smoking pot out of a Pepsi can
    and talking about a friend
    who ollied over a parked car the same day he got stabbed
    at the mall.

  • On April 1, 2009 at 10:34 pm thomas brady wrote:

    A puff piece on the Dickmans in the April 6 “New Yorker” by Rebecca Mead.

    A full page photo of them, seated, looking wan.

    Mead does quote Michael Schiavo: “the Dickman twins have put their life story, not their poetry, front and center, have made that the reason you should find them interesting.”

    But then she responds, “In fact, the Dickman twins have made efforts to resist the pairing of their work, as does Michael Wiegers, the executive of Copper Canyon…”

    Yet the entire thrust of the piece is how interesting it is that these guys are twins; it portrays them as co-authors of each other’s work, almost, and tries desperately to make their lives seem as interesting as possible, when the only key facts that emerge, really, are that they played the strange twins in the movie “Minority Report” and their step-aunt is Sharon Olds. Oh, yea, they know a lot of poets and Matthew had a date with Allen Ginsberg. The Dickmans are lower-middle class and they like books and they love poetry, and Mead tries hard to make this sound like the most interesting thing in the world. Snippets of poems quoted don’t reveal poetry that’s really that good (and sometimes sounds pretty awful) and there’s stuff that makes you wince, like when Matthew tells the Ginsberg story, “So we went up to his hotel room, and he orders a gin-and-tonic for me, and I am sitting there smoking Export ‘A’ cigarettes and eating chocolates that have been left on his pillow, and he and I have this incredible conversation about poetry.”

    ‘Incredible conversation about poetry.’ I guess it’s sweet of Matthew to say that.

    In my post above I tagged Matthew as Bukowskian, and sure enough, here in the article Matthew says, “Reading Bukowski was, like, ‘Wow, you can write about anything…I recognized the type of masculinity in those poems–the injured, desperate bravado.”

    Their mother sounds like a good, dedicated person, and the Dickmans sound like OK guys, but are they, or is their poetry, really that interesting? I don’t think so.


Posted in Poetry News on Friday, March 20th, 2009 by Travis Nichols.