By Marcia E. Gawecki
“It’s called three poems and three suicides,” Matthew Dickman said matter-of-factly about the title of his upcoming poetry recital.
He’s a poet from Portland, and at the Idyllwild Arts Summer Program this week to teach an adult poetry class. On Tuesday night at 7 p.m., Matthew will read along with four other poets at the Krone Library on campus.
Matthew has firsthand experience with suicide, which is often considered a taboo subject in our culture. His older brother committed suicide, along with several of his friends who were artists.
“We often think of teens as the biggest group that commits suicide,” Matthew said. “But actually geriatric suicide is more common. When an 85-year-old grandmother quits eating, we accept that as ‘her time to go.’”
In past lectures on suicide, Matthew has asked members of the audience to stand if they have had a family member commit suicide. A few stand up. Then he asks those who had a spouse, lover or close friend commit suicide to stand. A larger group stands up. Then he asks those who have known someone from school or work who have committed suicide.
“By then, most of the audience are standing,” Matthew explained. “And those who are sitting fall into one of those groups, but are too shy to stand. Unfortunately, in our culture, it’s just a matter of time when you know of someone who has committed suicide.”
He said that his older brother was a great person, and had attempted suicide before, so it wasn’t a surprise. He recounted an experience with him in an Irish Pub in Portland:
“It got really crowded in the bar towards the end of the night and I bumped into a guy with my shoulder. It was an accident, but he grabbed me squarely on the shoulder,” Matthew recalled. “In the bar mirror, I could see the flash of a knife blade, so I tried to push him away. Within seconds, my older brother was there, shoving the guy up against the wall.”
Violence was more common than not in the working class Portland neighborhood where Matthew grew up. His family home was a safe oasis for many kids, away from the neighborhood violence.
At a young age, Matthew identified with a photo of the Beat Poets standing on a San Francisco street corner.
“There they were, Kerouac, Ginsberg and the rest, all standing there, not wanting to fight anyone or push drugs,” Matthew recalled. “They just wanted to change the world with their poetry.”
Later on, Matthew met Alan Ginsberg at a book signing in Portland.
“My brother handed me a bunch of Ginsberg’s books and told me to get them signed, and we’d meet up at the coffee house later,” Matthew said.
So he went, and when it came time for him to meet the Beat Poet, Matthew mentioned that his writer aunt had once worked with Ginsberg in a hospital.
“He ignored my comment, and instead asked me about my love life,” Matthew said.
He fumbled for an answer, Ginsberg signed the books and Matthew walked away.
“He was totally hitting on you, dude,” his friends said. “You should talk to him.”
When the crowd thinned out, Matthew ended up talking to Ginsberg, and invited him to join his twin brother and friends at a local coffee shop. Ginsberg was in his 70s at the time, and Matthew was 18.
“He was totally cool,” Matthew said of the experience.
They read poetry, practiced Buddhism and ate chocolates over the next few days. He said that he and Ginsberg had kept in touch by email and phone until he became sick.
“Then I never heard from him again,” Matthew said.
After his death, Matthew wrote a poem called, “I miss you, Alan Ginsberg.”
Matthew also wrote a poem about his older brother’s suicide in his first book of poetry, “All American Poem” (2008). With his twin brother, Michael, he wrote another book entitled, “50 American Plays” (2012), one for each state. In October, Matthew has another poetry book coming out entitled, “Mayaknovky’s Revolver.”
In his poetry class this week, Matthew prefers to put the suicide topic front and center so there’s no surprises. He said most of the adults who take his class come to heal from the experience.
“I don’t expect great writing,” he said. “Oftentimes, words escape you when your emotions are intense.”
But he hopes to help them turn their harrowing experience into art.
Matthew said that he met Ed Skoog, who is in charge of Poetry Workshop during the Summer Program, when he officiated at his brother’s wedding.
“Not only can Ed write poetry, but he plays a mean banjo,” Matthew laughed.
Besides teaching poetry, Matthew edits a national poetry journal, and freelances for advertising agencies. Only just recently, he said, he’s been able to support himself through his writing.
He started writing poetry when he was a sophomore in high school to impress a senior who was interested in poetry.
“She liked one of my poems, and we got to make out,” Matthew recalled. “After that, I just kept writing.”
Since then, Matthew has won many awards, and garnered national attention for his lyrical poems.
On Tuesday, July 17, Matthew will read some of his works at 7 p.m. at the Krone Library on the Idyllwild Arts campus (located at the end of Tollgate Road in Idyllwild). Like all events at Idyllwild Arts, it is free and open to the public.
For more information, contact Idyllwild Arts at (951) 659-2171 or visit www.idyllwildarts.org.
Copyright 2012 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.