Nick Ripatrazone at Poetry Magazine:
Matthew Dickman’s new book, Wonderland, is full of characters who feel forsaken by God. Much of this new collection—Dickman’s fourth—takes place in Catholic school, where God and Christ are as physical as the poet’s bullied body but are rarely sources of comfort. To the contrary, God is a source of dissonance in Dickman’s poetry. Growing up in Portland, Oregon, Dickman was an Episcopalian in a Catholic world, and although he plunders the rituals and ceremonies of Catholicism, he clearly feels distant from that religion. Wonderland suggests that Dickman is not just a spiritual poet, or a devotional one in the mold of Wright, but a poet whose worldview, language, and themes are rooted in the pageantry of the Catholic Church. He represents a tendency in contemporary Catholic poetry—also evident in the work of Natalie Diaz, Patricia Lockwood, and C. Dale Young, for example—to drop doctrinal adherence while retaining a fascination with symbolism. His work occupies a middle ground in which Catholicism is meaningful yet still evokes pessimism, conflict, and doubt.
In a 2015 interview in Granta, the poet Barbara Ras asks Dickman, “Do you think our religious roots dig so deep they become ghosts we can’t shake off?” Dickman replies, “My personhood is in a great part defined by religion…and so my poems are too.” He goes on to explain that “you have to swim through a bunch of blood” to attain whatever is healthy in life, which includes, according to him, “ideas about transformation, forgiveness, empathy, wonder, metaphor…”