Green Migraine

by Stephen Burt

Dickman’s haunting, hard-to-forget scraps and gobbets of free verse at first mark out familiar (to Dickman and his readers) extremes. Mice that might be sickly relatives have “tumors … Dancing like jugs of milk // Lighting the way between the bedroom and bath.” In “Black Migraine” (one of several “migraine” poems) “The saints come marching in / through a hole / in the sky… Every sound / shovels my forehead / into the ground.” When a concept intrudes, the heart lifts, though the concept itself can weigh him down: “Why do I keep waiting for something to change when I know that nothing will change?” Suited to souls coming apart, Dickman’s fragmented half-lines (reminiscent of Franz Wright) in this third book also show him becoming—by fits and starts—tender: The wounded animals and vulnerable body parts—a reader may discover gradually—allude not only to Dickman’s own fragile states, but to Dickman’s infant son, August, with whose amazing, frightening, arrival the volume ends: “Little boy hello again hello.” By the penultimate poem (addressed to the very vulnerable nineteenth-century poet John Clare) and the final one, tenderness has nearly overcome terror, though really they coexist: August is “so new / you could be gone tomorrow / and no one would know what to do… I live with you and your mama in the leaves.” That kind of sweetness seems new for Dickman: it’s one more reason to see what he can do.

This review originally appeared in American Poets, Fall-Winter 2015.