Book readings are rarely as much fun as they should be. All too often, sitting in a room listening to an author read (or, worse, field convoluted, self-important questions from the audience) is stuffy and dull—like school, only for some reason you're there voluntarily. This weekend, Tin House teams up with Disjecta to offer something beyond the "she talks, you sit quietly and listen" formula: a night of music, booze, and readings from the winter issue of Tin House magazine, featuring contributors Arthur Bradford, author of Dogwalker, and poet Matthew Dickman.
This event is noteworthy not only because you'll be allowed some actual fun with your reading, but because one of the readers is a local who's having a pretty damn good year. In addition to the American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize, Dickman's 2008 collection All-American Poem just won the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, a $10,000 prize presented annually to a first book by a poet of "genuine promise." And no story about Dickman would be complete without noting that he lives in Portland and works at Whole Foods.
Dickman's poems are easy to read and easy to understand, but no less expansive for their accessibility. All-American Poem unites an acerbic eye toward contemporary America with a genuine interest in, and empathy for, the people who populate that landscape. In nine ranging pages, the book's titular poem describes an America that's paradoxically both brimming with possibilities and hemmed in by the insurmountable limitations of history, geography, and class. There are lines that assert their own cleverness ("Times Square looks like America throwing up on itself./I want to hold its hair back"). Deceptively simple lines that unpack to contain entire lives. ("My first girlfriend refused to eat meat./She said she wouldn't be a tomb for another living creature./But she privately cut herself on the arms/which confused both her parents.") And, modestly, lines that acknowledge Dickman's influences, and politely ask them to scoot over and make some room—in the same long poem, poet Kenneth Koch walks a dog through one of the narrator's dreams.
Tonight offers a chance to acquaint yourself with some fine writers while drinking booze and enjoying music from the Old Believers. I suggest you take it.