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Matthew Dickman

1975–

Matthew Dickman was born on August 20, 1975, in Portland, Oregon. After studying at the University of Oregon, he earned an MFA from the University of Texas at Austin's Michener Center.

His first full-length collection, All-American Poem, won the 2008 American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize in Poetry. He is also the author of two chapbooks: Amigos (Q Ave. Press, 2007), and Something About a Black Scarf (Azul Press, 2008). His second full-length collection, Mayakovsky’s Revolver (W. W. Norton), was published in 2012, and Wonderland (W. W. Norton) was published in 2018. 

Dickman's style, as exemplified in All-American Poem, was noted in the Los Angeles Times:

"Dickman crystallizes and celebrates human contact, reminding us...that our best memories, those most worth holding on to, those that might save us, will be memories of love...The background, then, is a downbeat America resolutely of the moment; the style, though, looks back to the singing free verse of Walt Whitman and Frank O'Hara."

His awards include the May Sarton Award from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Kate Tufts Award from Claremont College, and the 2009 Oregon Book Award. He is the recipient of two fellowships from Literary Arts of Oregon, and has received residencies and fellowships from the Michener Center for Writers, The Vermont Studio Center, The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Guggenheim Foundation, and The Lannan Foundation.

He also appeared in the 2002 film Minority Report alongside his twin brother, poet Michael Dickman. Currently, Dickman teaches in the Vermont College of Fine Arts low-residency MFA program and lives in Portland, Oregon.


Select Bibliography

Wonderland (W. W. Norton, 2018)
Mayakovsky’s Revolver (W. W. Norton, 2012)
All-American Poem (Copper Canyon Press, 2008)

By This Poet

4

Ghost Story

for matthew z and matthew r
I remember telling the joke
about child molestation and seeing
the face of the young man
I didn't know well enough 
turn from something with light
inside of it into something like
an animal that's had its brain
bashed in, something like that, some
sky inside him breaking 
all over the table and the beers.
It's amazing, finding out
my thoughtlessness has no bounds,
is no match for any barbarian, 
that it runs wild and hard
like the Mississippi. No, the Rio Grande.
No, the Columbia. A great river
of thorns and when this stranger
stood up and muttered
something about a cigarette, 
the Hazmat team 
in my chest begins to cordon 
off my heart, glowing
a toxic yellow, 
and all I could think about
was the punch line "sexy kids,"
that was it, "sexy kids," and all the children
I've cared for, wiping
their noses, rocking them to sleep,
all the nieces and nephews I love, 
and how no one ever 
opened me up like a can of soup
in the second grade, the man
now standing on the sidewalk, smoke smothering
his body, a ghost unable 
to hold his wrists down 
or make a sound like a large knee in between 
two small knees, but terrifying and horrible all the same.

Maine Seafood Company

(Salt)

A LOBSTER.
           Once out of the box
           The wooden box
           The metal box
           The box, the box, the box
           Dragged up from the salt

           Things don't feel too bad

           And then they do

           And then they don't

(And waves)

Coffee

The only precious thing I own, this little espresso
cup. And in it a dark roast all the way
from Honduras, Guatemala, Ethiopia
where coffee was born in the 9th century
getting goat herders high, spinning like dervishes, the white blooms
cresting out of the evergreen plant, Ethiopia
where I almost lived for a moment but
then the rebels surrounded the Capital
so I stayed home. I stayed home and drank
coffee and listened to the radio
and heard how they were getting along. I would walk
down Everett Street, near the hospital
where my older brother was bound
to his white bed like a human mast, where he was
getting his mind right and learning
not to hurt himself. I would walk by and be afraid and smell
the beans being roasted inside the garage
of an old warehouse. It smelled like burnt
toast! It was everywhere in the trees. I couldn’t bear to see him.
I sometimes never knew him. Sometimes
he would call. He wanted us
to sit across from each other, some coffee between us,
sober. Coffee can taste like grapefruit
or caramel, like tobacco, strawberry,
cinnamon, the oils being pushed
out of the grounds and floating to the top of a French Press,
the expensive kind I get
in the mail, the mailman with a pound of Sumatra
under his arm, ringing my doorbell,
waking me up from a night when all I had was tea
and watched a movie about the Queen of England when Spain was hot
for all her castles and all their ships, carved out
of fine Spanish trees, went up in flames
while back home Spaniards were growing potatoes
and coffee was making its careful way
along a giant whip
from Africa to Europe
where cafes would become famous
and people would eventually sit with their cappuccinos, the baristas
talking about the new war, a cup of sugar
on the table, a curled piece of lemon rind. A beret
on someone’s head, a scarf
around their neck. A bomb in a suitcase
left beneath a small table. Right now
I’m sitting near a hospital where psychotropics are being
carried down the hall in a pink cup,
where someone is lying there and he doesn’t know who
he is. I’m listening
to the couple next to me
talk about their cars. I have no idea
how I got here. The world stops at the window
while I take my little spoon and slowly swirl the cream around the lip
of the cup. Once, I had a brother
who used to sit and drink his coffee black, smoke
his cigarettes and be quiet for a moment
before his brain turned its Armadas against him, wanting to burn down
his cities and villages, before grief
became his capital with its one loyal flag and his face,
perhaps only his beautiful left eye, shimmered on the surface of his Americano
like a dark star.