Getting It

Matthew Dickman

One of the most moving experiences we can have as human beings is that of mystery.

We fall in love and suddenly our insides become outer space. We are in Portland and dreaming of Austin or we are in Virginia and dreaming of Tennessee. It’s the profound experience of the “other”. There’s a statement I have often overheard in galleries and museums that tie up this experience in a perfect colloquial bow: I don’t get it but I love it, or any hundreds of derivations: I don’t get it but it feels good, I don’t get it but…wow!

This reaction is a human reaction and often experienced, or vocalized, in our relationship with music, dance, film, and visual art. So it seems strange to me that we do not allow ourselves this same sort of ecstatic experience with the reading of poetry. With poetry the above declarations too often end with I don’t get it. There seems to be an expectation that poetry should be, if at first a kind of puzzle, something that is, in the end, figured out; an art form that is best experienced via autopsy. The body of the poem is placed in front of us and we are to cut it open and “figure” it out— when was it born? What was its meaning in life? How did it die?

I would like to argue for the embrace of a more mysterious, inexplicable, and unsolved experience of poetry. Let’s be in love!

Here then, a poet and book to help to you move beyond the cold serving dish many critics and misguided teachers of poetry would have you eat from- Anthony McCann’s incredible “I  Your Fate” (Wave Books, 2011).

“I  Your Fate” is a lyric book of poems that will make you feel like picking up a guitar, a paintbrush, dance your ass off alone in your room. That is to say, McCann will make you feel alive. And when, in the poem “Your Voice”, he writes:

But one day they changed the color of everything

It was kind of like tasting all the world’s locks

Or in his poem, “Mammal Island”:

Like a ghost

showing its




You might not “get” exactly what he is saying but you will feel what he is meaning. You will be moved by something pre-historic and radiant. Which is to say: you will be moved by this mysterious, lyric, ecstatic thing: poetry.