Like a lot of people who write poetry, Matthew Dickman is influenced by other poets. Not the least of which his twin brother and fellow writer Michael. But in talking to him about his newest collection, Wonderland (hardcover, Kindle), he revealed that he’s also influenced by a visual artist and two kinds of often rebellious music.
Photo Credit: ©️ Josh Tillinghast
To start, how would you best describe the poems in Wonderland? Are they free verse about your feelings, sonnets about nature, what?
I would say most of the poems in Wonderland are poems in which I am dreaming myself back to my youth, at a particular time, in a particular place. They could officially be called free verse, but many have form, forms which are organic to my own sense of music and anxiety.
Why did you decide this would be a good theme on which to frame Wonderland?
If I was to say these poems moved around, in and out of, a theme it would be a particular part of my childhood which has directly affected a particular part of my adulthood. But there was no clear decision made but for the one to collect all these poems together in a certain way. I’m not sure if one makes decisions about anxiety, wondering about the past and how it affects the present, or what ghosts come to visit at night. If they were chosen based on theme then that decision happened after realizing what I was doing and that I couldn’t go back. Well…that I didn’t want to go back.
Some of the poems in Wonderland previously appeared in The New Yorker and American Poetry Review, while others were in your chapbooks 24 Hours and Something About A Black Scarf. But are the versions in Wonderland different from the previous versions?
Most of the poems that were published before have been revised in Wonderland. I think of revision not as an “act” or a way to make a poem “better” but as a practice, one that is as much about writing as it is about understanding myself.
Speaking of those chapbooks, does Wonderland have all of the poems that were in them?
No because not all of them wanted to be in this book.
Was there ever any thought to Wonderland being a compilation of your chapbooks? Or are you thinking that the rest of the poems from 24 Hours and Something About A Black Scarf, as well as the ones from your chapbooks Amigos and Wish You Were Here, will appear in later books?
I haven’t thought of that. After a book is written — of which I don’t have a lot of experience — I have a hard time imagining I will ever be lucky enough to publish another book.
Are there any writers, or poetry collections, that had a big influence on the poems in Wonderland, but not your earlier collections?
When writing Wonderland, I went to so many poets, alive and dead, poets like Ai, D.A. Powell, Morgan Parker, Marie Howe, and Maged Zaher to name only five.
How about other influences, such as song lyrics or visual art; did any of them have an influence on the poems in Wonderland?
The work of the artist Jason Dodge has been wildly influential to me. And punk music. And rap. From Minor Threat to Young Thug.
Back when I wrote poetry, I often did readings, which would sometimes prompt me to make changes in the poems I read. Do you do this as well?
Totally! Sometimes when I read I accidently make changes, I fuck up a line, but the it sounds better to me or makes more sense and so I just trust the mistake because often a mistake I make is more honest than I am in the moment. This happened a lot with the incantatory “hour” poems [a series in Wonderland titled “One A.M.,” “Two A.M.,” and so on], a word here or there would change the whole world of the poem.
Your brother, Michael, is also a poet, and has written such collections as Green Migraine and The End Of The West. Do you guys trade poems back and forth for feedback?
All the poems I have ever written have his fingerprints on them. He is usually my first and last reader.
Finally, if someone enjoys the poems in Wonderland, which of your previous collections would you suggest they read next and why that one, and which of your brother’s collections would you recommend?
As for Michael’s, I would tell anyone to read Green Migraine. It’s my favorite of his three books of poems, though I’ve already read a lot of the new book he’s working on and that book is going to be amazing.