Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Parts of Everything in Days & Days, Michael Dickman’s new book of poetry

Parts of Everything in Days& Days, Michael Dickman’s new book of poetry

article by Michael Steffen

With the haystack of 2019 comes the needle of Michael Dickman’s fourth book of poems,
Days & Days, a renewal, extension and honing of the poet’s vision and craft quietly polarized,
as Franz Wright recognized, with “utmost gravity as well as a kind of cosmic wit.” Over again the poems’ speaker widens our look with surprising combinations salted with colloquial signatures—“shuvit in the gloxinia on the first try” (“Butterfly Days,” page 3).

While the whole assemblage of the book would seem to stand every traditional notion about poetry, language and sense on its head—which in itself isn’t new or radical in poetry—deeply familiar notes are sounded, beginning with the title and its evocation of a pastoral awareness—
I wanted to say “celebration”—of time, fulfilled by a preoccupation in the poems with nature, urban or suburban albeit, with trees and shrubs, flowers, (pieces of) grass, butterflies and butterflies, crape myrtles, pear blossoms, deer pellets, tea and test roses, fringed tulips, something dull in the bushes is that a rabbit?…

A normal juxtaposition of terms expects Days to be followed by & Nights. James Merrill had
a book of poems with that title. And so Days & Days strikes us also with a Kafkaesque sense of the technological day we live in and cannot turn off.

I picked up everything in the house & set it all back down just to

the left of the clicker (“Lakes Rivers Streams,” page 118)

If more classically it is Hesiod’s Works & Days we are just missing here, the title Days & Days becomes more burdened and ominous, especially in Dickman’s portrayal of time’s lapses.

These conditions somewhat give rise to and affirm Dickman’s alterity, especially his mincing and fizzling of our principle sources and signs:

Some sun above the day
a squiggly light that waits round or
scribbles over
a school of Radio Cabs
& bubble letters

A doe
A deer
A female deer

Traffic moves in
the leaves & then stops
to say hello (“Scribble,” page 9)

The overall arrangement of the book, meanwhile, reveals structuring, with four poems in the first section titled “The Poem Said,” a theme of roses, actual or otherwise, central to the second section (ROSE PARADE), and the third part of the book set in a long poem Dickman calls “Lakes Rivers Streams,” with a nod to John Ashbery The long poem coheres attentively though not laboriously by way of anaphor, repetitions of “The day” personified as subject, the odd use of “ditto” here and there, and an almost robo-linguistic reprising of “For instance.”

Generally, Dickman’s is language poetry, with an insistence on the preservation of the naïve spirit of creativeness, and on the necessary failure of correspondence between sign and thing, lest the correlative archons and tyranny of the day win us over.

I would go there right now
folded up in the silence of a maple tree in the front yard
A tiara
if I could get one leaf right
& sleep in air (“The Poem Said,” page 10)

Where meaning seems insistently to elude us, it sneaks back up on us…almost everywhere. To humanize the traffic in that last strophe with “& then stops/to say hello” is a keen deflation of the poet’s method and terms. It is a stroke of humor, humility and self-awareness, a sudden grin of friendliness from the alien and fugitive procedure and manner of Dickman’s elsewhere noted austerity.

From the onset of the collection, we know our ventures of personality are not made to a facile welcome on the horizon, with—

something else

more difficult to describe

a dustup
around a brown & orange aura
or Lorca’s flowers

The page under its poem’s heading “Butterfly Days” begins in paradox already with reference to an ending: “icing on a cake”—however associated with the residual or sticky, ceremonial, artificial. Icing. Beginning ending. Ending beginning. It is as odd and yet apt this book of copious near-handed wonders (“Neighbor dogs are kind & hunt balls to death”) should conclude with an embodied image of our foremost bearings of first things,

In the morning the kids come running down the stairs (“LRS,” page 121).

Days & Days
poems by Michael Dickman
is published by Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN 9780525655473 (hardcover)
available for $27.00

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