The secret language of twins: Matthew Dickman and Michael Dickman talk poetry

Matthew and Michael Dickman share more than just DNA. The identical twins are also award-winning poets who call Portland, Oregon home. Matthew is the author of All-American Poem (American Poetry Review, 2008) and Mayakovsky’s Revolver: Poems (Norton, 2012). Michael’s work includes The End of the West (Copper Canyon, 2009) and Flies (Copper Canyon, 2011); the brothers collaborated on the 2012 collection 50 American Plays, a book of poem-plays about all 50 states. In honor of National Poetry Month, BookTrib had the pleasure of speaking with Matthew and Michael about poetry, siblings, and all things art.

What poem has resonated the most for you over the years? Would your answer have been different five, ten years ago?

Matthew DMatthew: One of the most influential poems over the last couple years has been Frank O’Hara’s “Having a Coke with You.” I love this poem for its energy and wandering spirit. It has been a kind of Spirit Animal for me, a reminder that when I write a poem, when I reach out to the Other, the other person or the other self, I can say anything I want, that desire is a great impulse for art. There are probably one hundred thousand poems that have moved me in the last five years, poems like Marie Howe’s “Courage,” Carl Phillips’ “Singing,” Jack Gilbert’s “The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart,” Dorianne Laux’s “Men,” and so many others. Ten years ago I was 28 years old and the most important poem for me was Andre Breton’s “Free Union.” Of course tomorrow all these answers will have changed.

Michael DMichael: I can’t think of just one poem. And different poems resonate, as you say, for different reasons. The poet I’ve been most excited about recently though, someone who I was not even aware of five or ten year ago, is the English poet John Clare. Do you know him? An exact contemporary of John Keats. A farmer-poet-punk-rock-mud-man who wrote some of the most beautiful sonnet sequences about birds and badgers and foxes and more. He starts and stops on a dime. Just thrilling. Loved by poets as disparate as Ashbery and Heaney.

Since you’re both well-versed on the subject, how would you describe each other’s poetry to someone who’s never read it before?

Matthew: I would describe the poet Michael Dickman’s poems as a mainline into our scary inner lives and what haunts us, our child selves battling our adult selves, poems that are stripped of gilded or self-loving language, so that what we are left with is the blood smeared across the door but the angel gone: that we are left with ourselves really. Michael Dickman’s poems are the voice and vision of experiences we have lost the language to talk about.

Michael: Matthew Dickman’s poetry is exciting and full of excitements, it is giving and open and inclusive, it moves fast, is funny and will break your heart. It’s all true.

How has having an identical twin in the same profession affected your writing and your relationship with each other?

Matthew: It has affected my writing in that Michael’s fingerprints, his breath, are on and in every poems I write. I don’t think that we are both poets have affected out relationship but that it is a part of our relationship, not a decision, but part of our organic and spiritual connection, part of our DNA as brothers.

Michael: It has affected my writing in much the same way that anyone’s writing would be affected by a constantly empathetic and trusting and critical voice would be, that is to say in untold ways. I can’t say that we wouldn’t be as loving or helpful in each other’s lives if I was a lawyer and he was a doctor. It is one of the great blessings of my life to know Matthew as a poet as well as a brother, and closest friend.

It’s common for twins to invent their own language. Did you two do this as children? How did it trickle down into your later work as poets?

Matthew: To a degree, all twin siblings do this. Again I think of this as an aspect of a lifelong intimacy, not separated out of that intimacy like a color from a color wheel but a shade of what is created by that wheel.

Michael: We did, and it hasn’t.

Since it’s National Poetry Month, what’s one poem by your brother that you’d recommend everyone read right now? What other contemporary poets do you admire?

Matthew: Everyone reading this should run and read Michael’s poem “Stations.” This poem has helped me sleep at night and then also kept me up until dawn. Right now, as far as my own contemporaries are concerned, I am excited about Bianca Stone, Roger Reeves, Dorothea Lasky, Heather Christle, Gary Jackson, and Carrie Oeding to name only a few.

Michael: Go read Matthew Dickman’s “Halcion” in the sun surrounded by flowers. I admire everyone.

Mayakovsky

Flies 50-American-Plays

What poet did YOU read this National Poetry Month? It’s OK, you can still read poetry the other 11 months of the year. 

Image Credits:

Cover Photo: http://shared.web.emory.edu/emory/news/releases/2011/02/poets-twin-brothers-to-give-reading.html#.U2FhLK1dWgs

Matthew Dickman: http://www.aprweb.org/author/matthew-dickman

Michael Dickman: http://vimeo.com/63693554

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Jordan is a freelance writer living in Portland, Oregon, after spending six years in NYC for college and graduate school (where she earned her MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia) before realizing that her heart belonged in the Pacific Northwest. She (hopefully) puts that degree to good use writing for BookTrib and Publishers Weekly about the vast quantity of books she reads. While Jordan’s literary diet is largely crime fiction—as she was raised, often literally, in Portland’s only mystery bookstore—she’s perfectly content to read novels and nonfiction that lack a murder because good writing transcends labels. Follow her on Twitter @jordanfoster13.