By Matthew Dickman
W.W. Norton & Company, $15.95, 93 pages
Matthew Dickman’s poems are haunted – haunted with memories, people, memories of people, haunted by impressions and depression. The voice of these poems is often distant and detached, yet a tenderness and empathy shines through. In “Weird Science” the narrator substitutes a pile of clothes for his absent lover next to him in bed, while “Dear Space” is a meditative piece about human frailty and finitude in the form of a letter to the cosmos. The section “Notes Passed to My Brother on the Occasion of His Funeral” is a powerful thirteen-part elegy for the poet’s deceased older brother. In it, the narrator grapples with grief, loneliness, despair and death.
“You have not died yet. Instead,
you are walking down Thirteenth Avenue
drinking your coffee,
thinking about death.”
The subject of suicide is a recurring theme throughout the poems. The title of the collection is a reference to the Russian and Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, who committed suicide in 1930. In the titular poem, the narrator muses on making a gun out of paper and pulling the trigger until it tears away. The last section, “On Earth” is a stunning and intense poem about the pain of continuing to live after those we have loved have died, whether from cancer, a car accident, or suicide. It is about the conflicting desires to give up and to continue living.
The poems in this collection seem to bleed into one another; similar themes, images, and motifs are interwoven throughout. In terms of form, the poems are all the same. This gives the collection a definite unity, but also a slight monotony. Still, Mayakovsky’s Revolver is a tenderly haunting collection by a strong, emerging young American poet.
Reviewed by Michael Julian