Meet Matthew Dickman
Portland native Matthew Dickman embodies a poetic force that stretches far beyond the PNW, and he kindly answered a few questions about his work and life as a writer.
As an author of multiple poetry collections and chapbooks as well recieving a 2009 Oregon Book Award and a 2015 Guggenheim Fellow, Dickman's work has an energy and authenticity worth celebrating. His newest collection Husbandry, a meditation on single fatherhood and the intricacies of domesticity, is a out June 2022. Pre-order Husbandry here.
How are you?
I'm well. Spring is a favorite month of mine in Portland. Coffee, rain, lilacs, jumping in puddles with my kids. It's hard to beat spring.
What have you read recently that you really enjoyed?
So many things! I loved Nina Maclaughlin's Wake, Siren as well as Gwen E. Kirby's Shit Cassandra Saw, Missouri William's novel The Doloriad, Tove Ditlevsen's The Faces, Eimear McBride's Mouthpieces, Ali Smith's Public Library, and Wanda Coleman's complete American Sonnets which Black Sparrow Press just put out. I absolutely loved Richie Hoffman's new collection of poetry, A Hundred Lovers. I guess that's all the reading from end of February to now, a little into April!
What has been your favorite workshop to teach at the Attic?
There's no favorite though with the help, over the years, of all the incredible writers who have particiapted in my "workshops," I've been able to develop a kind of exploratory class, a class based on belief in the subject and each other's work instead of the classic model of workshop which begins with the assumption that there's something wrong with the work a participant is bringing in, a needing-to-be-fixed kind of thing. I don't think those workshops, in the long run, are very helpful.
If at all, how did growing up in Oregon influence your work? How did leaving Oregon and moving abroad alter how you moved through the world and the world of your writing?
I can't claim that Oregon influenced my work but the city of Portland certaintly did. It is, and has been, a city of readers and writers. It was not hard, when I was young and going to Portland Community College, to find a group of other kids like me, other people interested in words and poems and stories. Living abroad, living in places where your language and your assumptions are not the norm influenced my humanity for sure—and in that way I'm sure influenced my writing. It helped me not to be the hero in my writing. That's something I see a lot and it's a little boring: people being the hero of their own poems.
You went from studying at a community college to being awarded a Guggenheim in 2015 (so cool!). Looking back at your career, what choices helped you to protect, nurture, or challenge your writing?
I had amazing mentors early on in the poets Dorianne Laux and Jospeh Miller who really instilled a writing world-view that what was important was your experience writing, your experience as a maker, and that everything else, awards, etc, were byproducts one should not hang their identity on. Also I do not teach at a University, I'm not part of that market, so my livelihood, my rent, the food I feed my kids, doesn't depend on awards or a new book of poems getting tenure. For that I am wildly thankful.
When it comes to writing about your family, how do you honor them in your work? Do your considerations of how to render them as characters shift as you approach sending a manuscript out for publication?
This is a great question. One way I honor my family is by not writing about everything they do. For instance, with my new book Husbandry—which is mainly about parenting, being a single father to two boys, the anxieties of parenting, etc—the majority of my experiences with my children have not been written about in the book. I have also been very cautious to not include anything that would be overly embarassing to my kids or anything, any experience, that had the intention of privacy.
Husbandry is written entirely in couplets; how was that formal decision arrived at? Was it a decision that was made before the idea of the collection was realized, or did it happen naturally, obsessively, etc?
The couplets came about organically during the writing of the poems. I had never written in couplets and so that was interesting to me. Also the dual nature of couplets felt right, seemed to fit the separation of my children's mother and I, the two children, love and sorrow, etc.
Are you working on any new projects that excite you?
Yes! Along with Husbandry I have written two other poetry manuscripts over the last two and a half years of the pandemic. One is a book of elegies and one a collection of "spring" poems. Right now, I'm working on revising a short story collection and that has been a blast—teaching myself how to write prose, walking around with characters in my head—so much fun!