On the Dickman Brothers

Stephen Burt

My brother opened
thirteen fentanyl patches and stuck them on his body
until it wasn’t his body anymore.

That’s how Matthew Dickman describes the death, in 2007, of his older half-brother, Darin Hull. His loss isn’t the only topic in Matthew’s poems, or in the poems of his twin brother, Michael, but it is one for which both poets are known – widely known, in the US, as poets go. They have now been introduced to the UK in an unusually designed volume: Brother (Faber, £10.99) contains ten of Michael’s and ten of Matthew’s poems about or connected to Darin, taken from their first two US books (The End of the West, All-American Poem, Flies and Mayakofsky’s Revolver), and printed tête-bêche (upside down with respect to the other). The publisher’s stunt emphasises their common subject and their disparate styles. Michael relies on sparse lines, ecstatic extremes and negative space; Matthew, by contrast, remains an effusively conversational writer, a realist who appreciates minutiae.

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