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Why Modern Poetry Matters: A conversation with The Nature of Words featured poet Matthew Dickman 

A conversation with The Nature of Words featured poet Matthew Dickman.

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Matthew Dickman is the exact kind of poet we need at The Nature of Words this year. Big of heart, generous of spirit. Playful. Accessible. At times uncomfortably honest. The Portland-born Dickman's bio reads like that of an author much older than 33: multiple poems and a feature profile (along with his twin brother, Michael, a poet in his own right) in the New Yorker; winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award; at the time of this writing, a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. All-American Poem is blazing a path through the world of modern poetry and I, for one, am smitten. Here's what Dickman had to say about his work, Jay Z and his appearance here in Bend next month.

What is your reason behind weaving "modern" subjects like Jay-Z or skinheads or even McDonald's into your work? Do you find the accolades bestowed upon you from traditionally "high brow" places like the New Yorker ironic when your work seems to strive for accessibility?

The poems in the world I like the best are poems with things in them. Things of the world I live in. Poems that anchor me in my humanity and shed/reflect light on my shared experience as a person. So if Jay Z shows up in my own poem it's not a technique but a symptom of the poem reverberating the life around me that I am part of. I was surprised and thrilled that the New Yorker ran two of the poems from All-American Poem, but not because I thought the magazine "high brow." I was surprised because I was a first-time author of a little book of poems by a small press.

Do you approach a small town audience like Bend differently than you would a more metropolitan crowd?

My approach in Bend will be the same as when I read somewhere like NY or LA. I'll be really, really, nervous and feel funny until I start reading. The workshops will be a great place to share ideas, celebrate poetry and write some poems down. I hope that we all end up learning something new about ourselves as artists.

How do you feel about Slow Dance becoming so loved by your fans? It really does seem to be your "Freebird."

First of all I'm surprised when anyone besides my mother likes any of the poems I write. It's been very meaningful and moving to see people's reactions to "Slow Dance." I don't feel like the poem's owner so it's more like watching a good friend of yours do well and being excited for her.

Are your new poems informed by the success of All-American Poem? Do you feel pressure to live up to such a staggering debut?

New poems are informed, always, by old poems. Each poem we write leads us to the next, tells us something about ourselves, humanizes us and hopefully makes us more open for the next one. The most powerful thing an award can do, besides maybe pay a light bill, is give your poems a little more attention and maybe be picked up by a new reader because of it. But no one thinks about a book that moved them, maybe even changed them somehow, and talk about an award the author received. They talk about the poem or story or play that gave them joy or tapped them into a sorrow or convinced someone to sleep with them!

This is the first of a two-part preview of The Nature of Words festival, taking place in Bend from November 4-8. Visit for details.


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