At the start of my freshman year of high school, I did not know how to write. I knew that I wanted to write, and I knew that I had a lot to say, but I hadn’t quite figured out how to articulate any of it. The poem that changed all of that for me was “Killing Flies” by Michael Dickman. I stumbled upon it by chance, and I was immediately captivated. The opening lines grabbed me and pulled me into a situation that I had never come close to experiencing, but that I somehow felt incredibly connected to
“I sit down for dinner
with my dead brother
This is the last dream I ever want to have
Passing the forks
around the table, passing
There’s nothing to worry about”
– Killing Flies
These lines stunned me, and expertly conveyed grief in just a few words. This poem came at an important time for me, and showed me the way that words can affect people in a way that can’t always be explained. During freshman year, I experienced the loss of purpose that comes with being 15. I was writing all the time for school, but I didn’t really know why. I didn’t feel like I was doing anything important. After reading this poem, I understood why.
As much as I love Dickman’s craft, I can’t say that is specifically what draws me to his work. Rather, it’s the unexplainable feeling I get each time I read one of his pieces.
The most valuable advice I was ever given as a writer was that specificity is your friend. In a lot of my early writing, I was trying to be as general as possible. I wanted to write what I thought people wanted to read, and I tried to be relatable to everyone. I was a 15 year old girl pretending like I lived in New York City, or played guitar in a band, or was struggling through college. In Michael Dickman’s poems, nothing is ever general. The detail is astounding, whether he is talking about his deceased brother, his relationship with his father, or Emily Dickinson.
“You eat the forks,
all the knives, asleep and waiting
on the white tables
What do you love?
I love the way our teeth stay long after we’re gone, hanging on
despite worms or fire
I love our stomachs
– My Autopsy
These lines strike me in ways I can’t explain, but the feeling I get when I read his work resonates through me. In a way, this feeling is what I am searching for in what I read, and what I am striving to produce in what I write. Michael Dickman taught me how to speak, how to be honest about the things that it hurts to be honest about. Now, I know that I can find myself, and by extension my writing, inside his poetry.
– Meredith Abdelnour, Junior Layout and Design Editor