Review of Michael Dickman's "Flies" published

My review of Michael Dickman's book Flies is up on the Books and Culture website now.  You can read the whole thing here.

If there's anything that the onset (or is it an onslaught?) of e-books should teach us, it's that books themselves matter. For the most part, if the publishing industry crashes, I say they deserve it for keeping the public trust so poorly.

Case in point: the publication of Michael Dickman's new book of poems Flies, recently out from Copper Canyon Press, is one of the major events of the year for people who care about poetry. His first book, The End of the West, was the bestselling debut in the long history of that press, and if it was filled with a sagacious quietness that suggested an author twice Dickman's age, it was also filled with promise. Many of us reacted with a compound clause: that's amazing; I can't wait to see what he does next.

Part of that feeling comes from the fragility of Dickman's lines. His verses seem weightless at the same time that they feel enormous and heavy. That's not a hyperbolic contradiction: think of a blue whale and you have it—this slow, gigantic force. Or, picture the cover of that first book: a photograph by Ralph Eugene Meatyard (Untitled, 1960) depicting a hanging victim, who, due to the camera's trick and limit, seems to float, or even to fly up off the page, when he should be dropping.

The cover of Dickman's new book...


New Essay Published by Mellen Press


Literary and Poetic Representations of Work and Labor in Europe and Asia During the Romantic Era: Charting a Motif Across Boundaries of Culture, Place, and Time is available now from Mellen Press, featuring a chapter I contributed entitled “Theatricality and Imaginative Failure in Keats.”

This chapter is part of a larger project I have in mind called “The Vanishing Point,” which will begin seeking a publisher sometime next Fall.  Meanwhile, you can find this book on Amazon, or straight from the publisher here.


In The Sublime Object of Ideology, Slavoj Zizek writes that “sublimity gives us simultaneously pleasure and displeasure: it gives us displeasure because of its inadequacy to the thing-idea, but precisely through this inadequacy, it gives us pleasure by indicating the true, incomparable greatness of the thing, surpassing every possible phenomenological, empirical experience.” Keats’ “Ode of a Grecian Urn” may be one of the language’s greatest poems, but it also contains some of poetry’s worst lines. Those lines, especially “More happy love, more happy, happy love,” are not mis-steps; they are failures, and, I’m arguing, active failures in Zizek’s sense, a kind of theatrical dive, meant to claim for the poet a documentable experience of the sublime. In what thereby becomes a discourse on imaginative limits, Keats discusses the form’s ability to “tease us out of thought,” connecting that lack of thought with silence, and ultimately to a breathlessness he enacts in these passages. As the poet demonstrates the failure of the poetic faculty in the face of the sublime encounter –making a spectacle of the climb, failure, and recovery– he also hopes to induce a similar reaction in his readers, attempting to move us out of breath and to the same pitch of delirium he has exhibited, to make his private imaginative environment a public one wherein his theatrical swoon is contagious.