This Week in the Mercury


Friday, February 20, 2009

A Brief Interview with Matthew Dickman

Posted by Alison Hallett on Fri, Feb 20, 2009 at 11:25 AM

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS A FLAGRANT VIOLATION OF BLOGTOWN'S NO-POETRY RULE.

Saturday night, Tin House and Disjecta are co-hosting an evening of readings and music, with appearances by writers Arthur Bradford and Matthew Dickman. Dickman's debut poetry collection, All-American Poem, netted both the American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Also, he works at the Whole Food in the Pearl, has an identical twin who is also a published poet, and played a pre-cog in the movie Minority Report. Unable to resist this awesome confluence of angles, I've focused all my coverage of the event on Dickman's work. Sorry, Arthur Bradford.

Mercury: All-American Poem has been very well received. It keeps winning things.

Dickman: Yeah, it’s crazy. I wish I could win some days off.

Right, you still work at Whole Food. When you’re having a bad at work, bad customers or whatever, do you ever feel inclined to tell people, “Hey—I’ve had poems published in the New Yorker”?

No, that would be like yelling at someone and saying, “I’m a 16th-century shoe cobbler!” Most people would be like, OK, what does that even mean... The most surreal moment recently was when the committee for the Kate Tufts Award called me at work, and I got this phone message from the poet Linda Gregorson saying “We have some news for you, give us a ring.” I got it on a ten-minute break while I was on a walk, so I couldn’t write the number down, then I accidentally deleted it. [She called back when I was back at work]. I could hear my butt vibrating, and I turned to the person next to me and I said, “I have to go to the bathroom.” And so I ran to the bathroom. And she put me on speakerphone with the selection committee, Robert Pinksy and these other poets… And then coming back and making pizza for people who don’t know how to say please—most of them do know, most of our customers are very nice—it was very weird.

This is gonna sound a little corny, but because there’s no translation between these awards and, you know, retiring at the age of 33, the greatest thing is being lucky enough to hear from people who don’t usually read poems, or who do and were moved by mine, who have reached out and have written to me. I’ve gotten really sweet wonderful emails from people that were moved by [my work]. Something that I’ve sat alone in a room and done is somehow out in the world having relationships with people.

So… you’re local, and you reference Oregon specifically in several pieces. To what extent do you think of yourself as a regional writer?

Anyone’s writing is defined by a lot of things, whether that’s where they grew up, their interests, or the kind of music they like. Certainly mine is tempered by growing up in Portland, growing up in Lents. I grew up in this great household that was very supportive, we had music and books in the house, but the neighborhood was also pretty rough—so there’s a hodgepodge of different influences from growing up in Portland. But it's not regional in the sense that I feel like I’m an Oregonian poet who writes about evergreens and Haystack Rock. Those not things that I feel are in my blood.

Your work is very accessible—not that it doesn’t reward close attention, but it’s easy to read, easy to understand. Is accessibility something you’re thinking about when you’re writing?

Not deliberately. When I’m working on poems, I want to write poems I want to read, in a way. But no, I don’t sit down and think, “How can I write this so people will understand it?” My biggest fear is a fear that I think a lot of artists and writers have, that people will figure out, this is just Dickman talking. Instead of reading his stuff, why don’t I just go have a beer with him or something?

Have a beer with Matthew Dickman on Saturday at Disjecta, 7 pm, $6

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