Matthew Dickman engages the traces of his own living past in poems that “light both heart and mind” (David Kirby, New York Times).
In the southeast Portland neighborhood of Matthew Dickman’s youth, parents are out of control and children are in chaos. Ghosts of longing, shame, and vulnerability haunt these luminous, hypnotic poems as Dickman confronts a childhood of ambient violence, well-intentioned but warped family relations, and confining definitions of identity. Wonderland reminds us that in neighborhoods filled with guns, skateboards, fights, booze, and heroin, and home to punk rockers, skinheads, poor kids, and single moms, we can also find innocence and love.
"I am always doing this. Walking around the old neighborhood, always/ sixteen, moody and stealing cigarettes," writes Dickman (Mayakovsky's Revolver) in a collection concerned with those liminal, adolescent years when the forward motion of growing up is both necessary and dangerous. The poems are ferocious and hardened by a backdrop of addiction and poverty. Dickman recalls his sister battling addiction while taking care of him and his twin brother, "her heart like a sack of rabbits, skull-sized/ motors in the dark," and a neighborhood where the "men happen to the women/ and the women happen to the children," with each new day arriving "like a van/ with its windows// painted black." A series of poems marked by the hour runs through the collection, beginning at one a.m. and progressing in stages to midnight. Here, Dickman departs from his broader narrative using chant-like anaphora: "This amphibian inner-organ green./ This smoke./ This pillowcase and razors and salt and trying to be a human being." For Dickman, the wilderness of youth becomes a kind of wonderland: "when I think of the second grade I think about fall leaves,/ black oaks, and urine." In Dickman's poems, readers observe as the bright-eyed potential of youth is shattered by the devastation of adulthood's onset.