TRIBUNE, JULY 29, 2009: JOHN DICKSON PASSES AWAY
Tribute To John Dickson at St. Paul's Cathedral Cultural Center on September 12
The Poetsí Club of Chicago
Poets and Patrons, Inc.
The Puddin'head Press
The John Dickson Bash
Readings of Johnís Poems and Stories
A Poetry Wheel Remembrance of John Composed of
Stories and Poems by John
Stories about John
Bring your Favorite John Dickson Poems to Read
Copies of Johnís Poems Will be Available to Read
Copies of Johnís Books Will Be Available to Purchase
Saturday, September 12, 2009 from 4 PM to 7:00 PM
St Paulís Cultural Center
2215 W North Avenue
Chicago, IL 60647
Please RSVP to
This Evening is Free and Open to the Public
Lake Michigan Scrolls
by John Dickson
The Puddin' head Press
Review by C. J. Laity
Well, I try to be completely honest in my reviews, so let me just admit this right from the start. Lake Michigan Scrolls is by far the best book of poetry I've read in many a years, and is written by one of America's most underestimated poets, Chicago poet John Dickson, who has been published over 500 times and who should seriously be considered for the position of Poet Laureate of Illinois. It is hard to describe Dickson's awesome talent for the written word. He has a narrative style which is consistent, confident, relaxed and mature, creating a voice very rare indeed in today's world of instant gratification. He often uses personification to strengthen this voice, such as in the poem "Rarely, If Ever, Is Flame Obsessed," which speaks volumes about the human heart with a simple parable about a moth falling in love with fire. Furthermore, the poem "Seafood Restaurant" is nothing less than a work of genius; it immediately and completely creates place, and if you don't see the red of a lobster right in front of your nose as you read it, you are probably comatose. Dickson's ability to suck his reader into intense but patient emotions, such as how he does so in "The Eye Paints The Mind," demonstrates that he is a master at his craft. And his ability to present an event, such as a bird getting into the house (in "The Bird"), with remarkable brevity and clarity, is nothing short of startling. Quite frankly, work like this makes the lesser poet jealous.
Like a word acrobat, Dickson pulls off amazing stunts, personifying intangible subjects such as days, or
making nonsense seem like reason
and logic like a drunk.
(from "Mythical Creatures")
With as little as two lines, Dickson can take us where he wants us to go:
shouting her name at the Federal Reserve
to hear it echo across the street.
or even force us to travel through years of history:
Even the dog so repetitious in his ways,
that his paws wear ruts in the concrete alley,
(from "How To Write A Poem")
But by far, Dickson's strongest asset is his imagery:
of angels losing their feathers, then their wings
as they realize love is not all saxophones and roses.
(from "The Movies")
and his imagery is so vivid and concise
like the slashing of a sack of wheat
or snipping a packed brassiere.
(from "How To Write A Poem")
that he can easily be forgiven for writing so much poetry about poetry itself:
carries her dead
poem, cradling it
in her arms. Can't
she see it isn't
is glazed over
and its rhythm
can tell by looking
at Miss Carruthers
be able to nurse
she know it
soon after it was
(from "Poetry 1-A")
With such a strong voice creating such strong imagery, the reader is offered a wide spectrum of moods which the reader consumes as each mood is dished out by unforgettable characters, ranging from the morbid image of a forgotten man, dead in his chair (in "Winter-Kill"), to the delightfully absurd folly of Poor Harry Whatsisname (in "Friendship"), who has such a loss of memory that he's not even sure if he's the narrator of the poem. This book is full of lovable characters, so strongly written that they come alive, characters that could compete with any other from the history of American literature. Here's Granddad in "Good Old Boys":
As they died one by one he stole their army stories
until you'd swear he must have fought the Civil War alone.
Sometimes we experience place from an internal vantage point, through the eyes of the characters, and other times from an external vantage point, such as in "As It Was In The Beginning," in which the character is instead observed by another. Dickson plays with these vantage points, creating moments so striking that they allow us temporary, total escape:
There may be fish memories trapped in his head --
escaping from large fish, devouring small ones,
or sun on the ceiling of his world.
(from "Still Life")
Some of his characters are not human at all, but are objects, in endless, dazzling personifications which lean toward magical realism. The poem "In Fitful Sleep," for example, seems a tribute to Nikolav Gogol, and "Something Missing" seems to be a tribute to Roald Dahl, but the Doppelganger in "Layover" is quite simply pure John Dickson.
Dickson has the powerful ability to see deeply into his subject matter, finding significance in the often times overlooked obvious which appears on the surface, such as all of what he sees in "The Canal". His subject matter includes (among other things) Love, Death, Childhood Teachers, Cats and Fish, with a Piano thrown in for good luck, in these mercilessly sentimental poems which are both touching and archetypal--we all have exaggerated fantasies of what we could or should have done (the poem "Life On The Mississippi" is a salute to that), and we all spice up our humdrum memories to keep us sane:
In time some synapse of the brain grows vague
and a few cherished memories slip off to oblivion
leaving us feeling a strange emptiness.
(from "The Conversion")
Dickson fills this "strange emptiness" with sweet juxtaposition and with his talent to invoke sadness and humor at the same time.
Besides being filled with 100 pages of the best poetry coming out of America today, Lake Michigan Scrolls is also well designed, splitting up the poems among the pages (such as how the poem "Fast Food Restaurant" is split evenly between two pages) to make reading this book easier. Puddin'head should be congratulated for believing in this gem and for doing it justice.
I have to be honest, though. This book is filled with moments of complete transcendence, and these moments are priceless. You might feel guilty only paying $10 for it.
--C. J. Laity, reporting the poetry news for ya'.
The Puddin'head Press can be reached at 708-656-4900.
Note: Well, I try to be completely honest in my reviews, so let me just admit this right from the start. Lake Michigan Scrolls is by far the best book of poetry I've read in many a years, and is written by one of America's most underestimated poets,