Michael Dickel, a poet, fiction writer, and photographer, has taught at various colleges and universities in Israel and the U.S. He co-edited Voices Israel Volume 36 (2010). He was managing editor for arc-23 and 24. Is a Rose Press released his most recent book (flash fiction),The Palm Reading after The Toad’s Garden in 2016.
With producer / director David Fisher, he received an NEH grant to write a movie script about Yiddish theatre. Dickel’s writing, art, and photographs appear in print and online. A chapbook of political poetry came out in 2017 from Locofo Chaps (Chicago), Breakfast at the End of Capitalism (free PDF download, scroll down to somewhere around row 13).
I was musing today at the realization that most of my favorite writers of today are in one form or another, travelers. Call them nomads, gypsies, expats,wanderers, what-have-you. There exists in their writing, some foreign element and insignia of their experiences. Perhaps it is because of my own meanderings that I seek these eclectic experiences in writing. I delight in discovering just how expansive we are as a society when I discover and connect with more and more of these poets from around the world.
What these writers offer the world of poetry and poets is in a sense, an artistic sociology. I am convinced that through their works we can bridge global understanding that transcends the limitations of racial, political, and theological divide. The worldly poet offers the heart of humanity in their creations which are all too often dictated, manipulated, or censored for our superficial understanding. The poet reveals the raw and intimate experience—stripped of the prejudiced influences of the societal powers-that-be. I am humbled time and again by the honesty of these works that commune where borders otherwise separate us, which brings me to Michael Dickel’s book, Midwest / Mid-East.
Dickel’s collection of poems resonate the juxtaposed dilemma of one who is pulled between nations. He presents each scene as an objective bystander without favor or prejudice. His poems, laden with images of Israel and the streets of Jerusalem confront the turmoil of a segregated society:
The voice of a child shrieks
behind my apartment. Elsewhere, a house stands empty,
without tenants. In Jerusalem, a rabbi cries over his book.
Deep in a valley, bronze bells call monks to prayer.
Before dawn, the muezzins harmonized the blues across
yawning valleys beneath the Hill of Bad Counsel.
Dickel offers neither opinion nor solution to the cultural dilemmas at hand, but instead conveys his own state of confused helplessness over the complex enormity of affairs. What Dickel offers, is an unflinching account of society’s needless divide and suffering:
Silver shadows spread across the faces of the strangers
at the other tables. The ceiling fans’ flying skirts
cast them; just like helicopter blades they swirl
above while below a few soldiers extract a body
from a tank within enemy lines. The tank
sat in the desert for two days. How should I mirror
those details for a reader I’ve never met [ … ]
I long for you to read this and tell me what to do.
Dickel does not sacrifice his own deeply rooted faith to the hands of corrupt theological and political hierarchy. He does not allow himself to become jaded by his experiences,but rather, recognizes human fallibility that has desecrated the greater communion of spirit:
When we are seventy let’s make love all night as though
we are young again and there is peace and people don’t die.
for words. for land. for names. for country. gods. but hold. on-
to. each. other. alone. together. emphasizing. fear. and desire.
Perhaps if society spent more time listening to people over propaganda, we would not experience these divides. Dickel’s work reminds us of the great consequence of prejudice that drive us further from humanity. We must witness, confront, and contemplate these unthinkable realities that are so often sheltered from us in American society. Dickel accomplishes this in his work through his direct and unbiased experiences, all the while understanding the enormity of the poet’s task:
Poets remain unpaid; still words overflow
into nothingness with no value placed upon added desire or its