No, You Shut Up!
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.
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."
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.
Travis Nichols is the author of two books of poetry: Iowa (2010, Letter Machine Editions) and See Me Improving (2010); and he is the author of two novels: Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder (2012) and The More You Ignore Me (2013). He has contributed to The Believer, Paste, The...