All American Poem by Matthew Dickman: A Review

During recent meetings, we have discussed the Dickman brothers. For a class, I wrote a review about Matthew’s All American Poem collection. I thought the community might be interested.


I have this bad habit of reading individual poems carelessly, skewing my overall experience with a collection, especially when immersed in the middle of a school semester. I’ll read half a poem and say Nah, I’m done with this or get caught up in individual cool/sucky lines. Because of my growing respect for the Dickman brothers and I thought Todd might quiz me, I wanted to read this one with care.

As a young poet still trying to find out how I want to come across in my poems, I appreciated Dickman’s defined poetic voice. I felt like he was writing in a “talking” manner. Oddly enough, this element was bogging me down with the O’Hara collection; I love the straightforwardness of these types of poems, but there is a certain element of description (for me! for me!) that makes Dickman’s poems a little more accessible in my particular place in my poetry-reading-life.

For instance, the poem “Love” is one at which many readers might grumble or even pass over, but Dickman used his method of bouncing around several ideas about love to come to “a love that can be translated into any language: I hope you do not suffer.” He goes from typically love scenes like weddings and restaurants to corn fields in love with the scarecrows to a penis taking off like a spaceship (one image I found poorly executed and worded). The point is Dickman has the way to place together images to create a whole that is seemingly “done,” but really powerful.

I have a professor that says not to write about our souls or our hearts, write about objects, people, things. In modern writing discussion, I’m always hearing things about abstractions being dangerous/sucky and “what does that look like?” worries. In his opening poem The Mysterious Human Heart, Dickman seems to address this, both the objects and the abstractions, beginning with a list of produce in New York, everything from oranges to walnuts. When he does get to his heart in the sixth line, Dickman describes it as “something I will never hold in my hands, something I will never understand.” In a way that reminded me of Hoagland (who selected this book as the APR/Honickman First Book Prize), Dickman places these sentimental asides (lame abstractions?) alongside nice images.

Much of this book has an undertone and often straightfowardness about longing and lonliness. Dickman seems to reveal himself with poems like “Slow Dance”, describing how “the slow dance” is that connection he is looking for, and “Amigos,” telling of his desire for companionship through a scene including a big storm, a coffee shop, and “his amigos.” It is poems like these that show Dickman’s concern with the feeling of the poem as a whole rather than perhaps each individual line/word.

Side note: Amigos holds one of my favorite lines in the whole book: There are days I feel as though someone has written my name on a stone/and thrown it over the side of a cliff.

Slow Dance does also have examples of my complaints with some of these poems. For instance, he says, “It’s all kindness like children before they turn three.” For such an attempt at a sweet sentiment, it ruins the thing for me as it just doesn’t seem true. I’ve met two year olds with no kindness in their hearts. Also, the poems ends with “The haiku and honey. The orange and orangutan slow dance.” While I think I see where he is going, such a connected poem, twirling around this metaphor of the slow dance, gets muddled with these dropped images.

These poems are also filled with references to sexual desire. While some work, like the S&M reference in “Love”, others as mentioned before, distract from the (possible) beauty of the rest of the poem, like the line “The blastoff of the first word sending the penis into space. Not that I ever imagined/my cock being a spaceships/though sometimes men are like astronauts, orbiting/the hot planets of women” from the same poem, Love. At times it seems as though Dickman can’t filter himself, limiting the projection of sincerity in his poems.

My favorite poems: Love, Snow, Amigos, All-American Poem, American Studies, The World Is Too Huge To Grasp

Least favorite poems: Classical Poem, An Imaginary French Film, Grief

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One Comment on “All American Poem by Matthew Dickman: A Review”

  1. cynthia says:

    It is the “maybe” in Dickman’s poetry which sets him apart.

    The quiet, inventation to hear his experience. The maybe, perhaps?? which allows you to rest quietly, like a good listener you can hear him strip judgement away, and finally you do as well.


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