How does it feel to be (almost) famous?
Matthew Dickman, a poet who lives in Portland, Ore., has a good story to share. In April, Rebecca Mead profiled him and his brother, Michael, for a piece in The New Yorker. About Dickman's poems, Mead wrote, "Matthew's are effusive, ecstatic, and all-embracing, spilling over with pop-cultural references and exuberant carnality."
A few people recognized Dickman after the story was published. One woman asked him to sign a copy of his book, "All-American Poem," while he was working - at Whole Foods.
After he signed, there was another request.
"'Now this might be weird,'" Dickman recalled the woman saying, "'but could I get half a pound of smoked mozzarella pasta salad?"
Therein lies the good and bad of being an almost-famous poet.
"There is no money or fame in it," Dickman said. "The good news is that there's not the stress that money and fame can put on a famous person."
Dickman, who will be in South Carolina next week for literary residencies at Richland Northeast High School and the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities, only works part-time at Whole Foods now. He's at the specialty counter selling cheese, chocolate and beer.
"I started working part time because I was lucky enough to start doing some readings," he said. "It's a good job because I don't have to take it home with me."
Dickman, who will be at RNE Tuesday and the Governor's School Monday, won the 2009 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, which is awarded to first-book poets, and the inaugural May Sarton Award from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.
He's not the savior of poetry, but he does write with a voice that might revive mainstream interest.
Dickman writes about everyday things. His poems are not mysteries waiting to be unlocked. For instance, "Thanksgiving poem" from "All-American Poem" is about, well, Thanksgiving. Everyday students and people can relate to his work unlike the poems of, say, Milton and Byron.
Students get introduced to poetry of the above traditionalists with the question, "What does it mean?" Dickman thinks there is a better way.
"Poetry is taught poorly in schools," he said. "Poetry is taught first off as a puzzle to solve.
"You can give them the gift of poetry by having them read the current poets."
At RNE, Dickman will be working with a variety of the school's English classes. He'll give a reading, that is open to the public, at 3:45 p.m. Tuesday. He'll be joined by Ed Madden, a USC poetry professor. Susan Levi-Wallach, the communication director at RNE, met Dickman this summer when he was a visiting poet at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
"He's got this very engaging open way of communicating with people," she said. "And I told him about our students, and how diverse we are. I asked him if he would come and talk to our students, and he said, 'Yes.'"
Levi-Wallach sees Dickman as a poet who will engage young readers because of the everyday language he uses.
"Picking up a book isn't as engaging for the imagination," she said. "Too often they're not exposed to writers who speak their language. They hear it in slam poetry and rap, and then they pick up something by Frost or something else traditional and they don't relate.
"You can get Frost into the curriculum if you start by engaging the students first with something more in tune."
How in tune is Dickman? He was one of the pre-cogs, the humans with special powers to see into the future and predict crimes beforehand in the 2002 film "Minority Report" starring Tom Cruise. That should get him enough cool points to get students to listen.
"I just think we're incredibly fortunate to bring a poet of this caliber before our students," Levi-Wallach said. "To not only have them here him read, but to have a dialogue."
RNE is at 7500 Brookfield Road. For more information, call (803) 699-2800.
JUST $999 AND UNDER
if ART Gallery isn't necessarily having a sale, but for the novice art collector, there's a deal for you. The Vista gallery is presenting "100 Under 1,000: ifARTworks for $999 And Less." The exhibition will be open through Dec. 24. The art represented is spectacular in discipline and size. If you already know what everyone else wants, perhaps you'll find something for yourself.
if ART is at 1223 Lincoln St. The gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call (803) 238-2351.
WADSWORTH & FRIENDS
The second Wadsworth & Friends concert of the season Wednesday at the Columbia Museum of Art will feature works by Dvorak, Schoenberg and Mozart. The featured chamber musicians include Jennifer Frautschi, violin; Jessie Mills, violin; Hsin-Yun Huang, viola; Nicholas Cords, viola; and Peter Wiley, cello.
The concert will start at 7 p.m. The museum is at Main and Hampton streets. $30 and $35, and $5 for students; (803) 343-0482
YOU CAN'T MESS WITH THE MUSIC OF THE SEASON
"'Twas the Night Before Christmas, S. Claws?" will be performed at Workshop Theatre Thursday through Dec. 13 Find out what happens when Jack O. Lantern decides to meddle with the Christmas spirit. He'll find out that you can't mess with the music of the season.
Showtimes: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Dec. 13. The theater is at 1136 Bull St. $12; (803) 799-6551
'THE TWO CLARAS,' A NEW TAKE ON A SEASONAL CLASSIC
The Columbia City Jazz Dance Company will perform "The Two Claras," a contemporary re-imagining of "The Nutcracker" Friday and Saturday. The company's performance will feature live narration by actress Andie MacDowell, star of films such as "Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Multiplicity" and "Groundhog Day." The production will also feature and Kidz Bop star Dana Vaughns.
The performances will be at Drayton Hall Theatre, 1214 College St. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Friday and 1 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday. A shortened version will be performed at 11 a.m. Friday. There will be a reception at 6:30 p.m. Saturday with MacDowell, and reserved seats cost $50. Tickets for the performances cost $15, and $4 for the short version. For more information, visit http://www.columbiacityjazz.com or call (803) 252-0252
The Columbia City Ballet will perform "The Nutcracker" Friday through Dec. 13 and Dec. 18-20 at the Koger Center. The company is producing the holiday spectacle for the 29th consecutive year.
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Friday; 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; 3 p.m. Dec. 13; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 18; 3 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 19; and 3 p.m. Dec. 20. The Koger Center is at 1051 Greene St. $11 to $46; (803) 251-2222
ROUND-TABLE AND SALE
The third annual Artists Round Table Christmas Sale & Social will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Art Shack Gallery & Cafe, 2701-A Rosewood Dr. For more information, visit http://www.theartistsroundtable.org.
- Otis R. Taylor Jr.