The End of the West, by Michael Dickman

The End of the West

The West may end at the Pacific, but frontiers keep opening like needle holes in a junkie’s arm, like the “bright/ plastic” of an artificial intestine, like whales “moving the sea around.”

My grandmother set sail on a small air mattress into the middle of
the pool and fell asleep

Her fingers
dragging the water
(“Marco Polo”)

The paperback book itself literally expands as I read it, for reasons I don’t fully understand: it now has a pronounced bulge an inch from the spine, as if I’d stuffed it with invisible bookmarks, one per page. As if it had somehow gotten pregnant from my reading.

And The End of the West does invite an Old Testament kind of knowing, biblical as it is in its gritty, this-worldly god-talk, its at-times astonishing beauty, and its episodes of inexplicable violence.

Yesterday we put all the kids in the car, doused it with gasoline, and
lit it on fire

Their eyelids
and toe-

That was one day

The snow geese migrating above us in the dark was another
(“Late Meditation”)

Michael Dickman is one half of a pair of young, identical-twin poets with first books out from the revered Copper Canyon Press. I haven’t read Matthew Dickman’s All-American Poem yet, nor have I read the full profile of the twins in the New Yorker, and I usually avoid anything that everyone is talking about as a matter of principle, but I can tell you that The End of the West deserves all the hype it can get. It’s good.

It’s also a very good fit for the Copper Canyon catalog. Again, I mean that literally: in the Fall 2009/Winter 2010 Copper Canyon Reader [PDF], the excerpt from “Late Meditation” sits comfortably across the page from a prose poem by Lisa Olstein, from Lost Alphabet (“I have learned to peer at specimens through a small crack in the center of my fist…”), and transitions quite naturally to a two-page W.S. Merwin spread, including the poem “Still Morning” from The Shadow of Sirius.

It appears now that there is only one
age and it knows
nothing of age

writes Merwin, as if in answer to critics of the youthful Dickmans. My point is that Michael Dickman’s poems excel at the kind of surrealism-tinged revelatory insight in which Copper Canyon seems to specialize. Or as a review in The Believer put it, “Dickman continually unites the accurate (in terms of perception, thought, emotion) with the mysterious, and he does so in a way that feels natural, almost inevitable…”

This morning I killed a fly
and didn’t lie down
next to the body
as we’re supposed to

We’re supposed to

Soon I’m going to wake up
(“We Did Not Make Ourselves”)

At the same time, the working-class, post-industrial urban landscape grounds and balances the revelatory moments. “Wang Wei: Bamboo Grove,” for example, includes late-night dog-walkers

Bending down
to scrape shit off the sidewalk
into little plastic bags

“Some of the Men” begins:

I had to walk around for a long time before I could see anything

The leaves
circling down the street
imitating the insides of seashells
my fingerprints

I could sense my father
sitting along in his little white Le Car
staring off at the empty parking lot

No radio
No wind
No birds

You’ve probably realized by now that the poem in my previous post, “Bridge to Nowhere,” was a shameless imitation of Michael Dickman. This is the kind of poetry I hope to write when I grow up.

6 Replies to “The End of the West, by Michael Dickman”

  1. Duh. Still under anaesthetic: I’ve donated one of Michael Dickman’s to you. Well, I guess it goes to show what very high expectations I have of a Dave Bonta poem!

    Incidentally, on your recommendation I chased up a copy of ‘We Don’t Know We Don’t Know’ by Nick Lantz. Superb. Thanks for the tip.

    1. Excellent! Always good to hear that people are buying books because of what they read here, and I’m glad I didn’t steer you wrong.

  2. “Or as a review in The Believer put it,’Dickman continually unites the accurate (in terms of perception, thought, emotion) with the mysterious, and he does so in a way that feels natural, almost inevitable…’”

    This seems promising. Thanks for the tip.

  3. Don’t grow up Dave!
    I liked that poem fine, but not as much as e.g. most of the banjo series.

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