6/20/11: On reading Flies

I’ve a ticket to a poetry reading in Seattle tomorrow, a benefit for Copper Canyon Press. One of the poets is Michael Dickman, and in preparation, I purchased his second book, Flies, which I read through fairly quickly last night, but want to read again slowly. I’ve also watched (more than once) a YouTube video of him reading the title poem, which, after being pointed in the direction by Dana Guthrie Martin (in her blog, My Gorgeous Somewhere), I paid attention to changes in the poem between the oral and written formats.

So thank you to Dana, for pointing that out, it reminds me how poems are always subject to revision and how each word counts and pulls the poem along. I’ve had a poem accepted recently that I have since revised substantially, but will have to go somewhat reluctantly with the former version. I’ve also had revisions requested by editors, making me aware of how the poem speaks on its own and not so much in my voice.  

I often worry about being misunderstood, which is sort of silly, since what I mean to say does not need to match the reader’s experience for the poem to work. Revision is the heart of writing, of course. I often dream changes. Last night a stranger whispered in my ear, this woman doesn’t speak so much as she bends words, the image of a woman bowing wordlessly.

The thing about poetry that I love is how poems use words and space to replicate or create a geography or location where I can live for a moment. Of course, novels (even films) have the potential to transport me in a similar manner, but these media generally take more material to do the job—a whole paragraph for example, whereas in a poem, the placement of a word or two, the space between a line and the next, can be simply transformative.

Dickman uses space in an amazing way in these poems, which chronicle a story of loss and despair that he never tells outright, but is nonetheless conveyed simply and specifically, with humor and a lightness that surprises line after line. Throughout the volume, flies appear and are the cause-and-effect of mundane domestic life and bewildering domestic tragedy. A way of asking why and a way of answering we can never know. 

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One Response to 6/20/11: On reading Flies

  1. Love this idea of the poem itself making a new space for you to live in for a moment. Also, re: bending words, be sure to see “Typeface #14” in the rain in my purse, Sarah Sloat’s blog.

    I hope you will report on your experience at the reading!

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