By Freddie Bruhin-Price
The Manchester Writing School, in association with the Anthony Burgess Foundation, welcomed America’s Dickman twins to read from and discuss their latest joint poetry collection, Brother, published by Faber in beautiful tete beche (“head to tail”) format.
Before the event began, Matthew and Michael Dickman spoke to Humanity Hallows about their lives as identical twins, friends and colleagues. “Our early poems sounded the same,” said Michael. “Even as you grow older there is still some residue.”
Matthew added, “Writing comes from who you are in your soul.”
Indeed, the twins seem to share a sort of ingrained optimism. They overcame the adversity of their elder brother’s suicide ten years ago and have gone on to produce what Academic Director of the Manchester Writing School Jean Sprackland referred to as, “Some of the most wonderful American poetry around today.”
Jean then introduced some short readings by Manchester Writing School students. First up was Natalie Burdett. Natalie read a poem about the impact of clay and coal mining on the landscape of Bagridge called ‘Bagridge Black’, vividly describing a scene “300 million years ago” when “amphibians and arthropods crawled out of their swamps”. The poem went on to envisage the Bagridge of today, one of “spoiled heaps, foggy ponds, red water” and “an information board marked by rust and cigarette burns”.
Following Natalie’s reading, Jean introduced writing school student Ian Humphreys. Ian has been shortlisted three times for the prestigious Bridport Prize and has read his poetry at several of the Writing School’s regular ‘Carol Ann Duffy and Friends’ series at the Royal Exchange Theatre.
Ian read poems about growing up as a gay teenager, in light of the recent horrific Orlando massacre in which 49 were killed and 53 injured at a gay nightclub. He said, “By being out and proud in the 1970s, in a time of fear and sometimes hate, gay people turned partying into a form of civil rights activism.” His second poem evoked the desire to “imbibe the city, its clubs and bars” and stood as a fitting tribute.
Following Ian’s reading, Jean welcomed the Dickman brothers to the stage to read from Brother. Michael read from the poem ‘Dead Brother Superhero’, which addressed the issue of his elder brother’s suicide: “I counted my breath like small white sheep and pinned my eyes open and stared at the door.” Next was the more visceral ‘Flies’, which described “Flies… whispering and eating shit”.
Next, Matthew took to the stage. His poems focused on the effects of events like suicide upon others. He said, “I don’t have to explain my poems, like explain about a Greek God or something, because I don’t know about them, so I don’t write about them.” He went on to read from a prose-poem called ‘Trouble’ which described various famous people’s suicides, the lines “My brother opened thirteen fentanyl patches and stuck them on his body until it wasn’t his body anymore” followed by “I like the way geese sound above the river” implying that life goes on after such a tragedy.
Following the readings, Jean Sprackland took to the stage for a discussion with the brothers about their lives and work. In a lively and good-humoured discussion, the audience discovered that Matthew is an editor as well as a poet, whereas Michael also teaches. The two also edit each other’s work, one of them saying, “We have both read all of each other’s drafts.”
Many of Michael’s poems, he said, come from “strange dreams… as my dreams tend to be very boring.” Jean found this difficult to imagine in poems which, she said, “contain humour which seems to ambush the reader.”
For more information about events, visit the Manchester Writing School website.