Students, faculty, and community members flocked to the Williams Center for the Arts earlier this month to hear famed poet Matthew Dickman recite his verses on life, love, and grief.
Author of All-American Poem and winner of the American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize, Dickman was the judge of the H. MacKnight Black Poetry Competition. He took the stage along with the competition’s winner, Michele Tallarita ’12 (Whitehall, Pa.), an English major, and honorable mentions Ross Moretti ’12 (Freehold, N.J.), a chemistry major, and Jessica Frey ’12 (Pittsburgh, Pa.), an English and chemistry double major.
Open to seniors, the H. MacKnight Black Poetry Competition is awarded annually in memory of H. MacKnight Black ’16, who at the time of his death in 1931 was one of America’s most significant poets.
The winner of the Jean Corrie Poetry Competition was English major Elisabeth Burnor ’14 (Rockaway, N.J.), and honorable mention went to Ashli Austin ’14 (Easton, Pa.). They both spoke at a reading later in the month. The Jean Corrie competition, open to first-year students, sophomores, and juniors, was judged by poet Joe Weil.
The competitions are part of Lafayette’s annual celebration of National Poetry Month and are sponsored by the English department.
Tallarita, who read her winning poem, “Hotel U,” was thrilled to share the stage with Dickman.
“I have often imitated his style and drawn on his work for inspiration,” she says. “To me, his stuff is what poetry should be: direct and emotional and funny and vulnerable. When I found out he had chosen my poem as the winner, I could hardly comprehend the idea that this poet I’ve looked up to for so long admired my work in return.”
Dickman says of “Hotel U,” which depicts college life through the metaphor of a hotel, “Michele’s winning poem does what all great art does: It brings us closer to the emotional and mysterious inner life of the world we live in, the world we so often merely pass through. It’s poems like Michele’s that keep art alive, people engaged, and our hearts ignited.”
Hailing from Portland, Ore., Dickman is Lafayette’s youngest H. MacKnight Black Poetry Competition judge. In addition to All-American Poem, his work appears in his chapbooks, Amigos and Something About a Black Scarf, as well as in Tin House, Clackamas Literary Review, Agni Online, and The New Yorker. He and his brother Michael also appeared in the 2002 Tom Cruise movie Minority Report, playing psychics confined underwater.
Exuberant and charismatic, Dickman captivated the audience with hilarious, poignant poems like “Slow Dance” and “V.” He also read from his darker, more recent work, which included elegies for his older brother and short dramas about the 50 states. Distinctive about his work is its ability to mesh life’s sufferings with its joys, the physical passion of love with the devastation of loss.