"Grief," a poem that Dickman first published in the New Yorker, begins:
to bed when she was thirty-six and Marlon Brando's daughter
hung in the Tahitian living room of her mother's house
while Stanley Adams shot himself in the head.
There follows a litany of suicide, including that of "Louis Lingg, the German anarchist" who "lit a stick of dynamite in his own mouth / though it took him six hours to die"; Polish writer Jan Potocki who "shot himself with a silver bullet" and Sara Teasdale "who swallowed a bottle of blues / after drawing a hot bath in which dozens of Roman Emperors opened their veins beneath the water." Interspersed with the list of self-inflicted dooms are more of Dickman's random acts of radiance. "I like the way geese sound above the river," he writes. "If you are traveling, you should always bring a book to read, especially / on a train."
Dickman, barely out of his 20s, was born in Oregon, and his work swings with all the crazy verve of the West. Another young poet, Valzhyna Mort, sounds a more intense and incantatory tone in her first major collection, "The Factory of Tears" (Copper Canyon Press: 116 pp., $15). "And once again according to the annual report / the highest productivity results were achieved / by the Factory of Tears," Mort writes. "While the Department of Transportation was breaking heels / while the Department of Heart Affairs / was beating hysterically / the Factory of Tears was working night shifts / setting new records / even on holidays."
That last, funny phrase -- "even on holidays" -- gives us a clue to Mort's sensibility. Politics are invoked, but tough-mindedly and with a sly wryness born of weary experience. This poem, the indelible title poem of the collection, ends:
I'm a recipient of workers' comp from the heroic Factory of Tears.
I have calluses on my eyes.
I have compound fractures on my cheeks.
I receive my wages with the product I manufacture.
And I'm happy with what I have.
Mort spent her formative years in Belarus, when that country was still part of the Soviet Union -- which may explain how she got so stoic. She lives in New York now, though part of her project is to reclaim the Belarusian tongue. In this book, therefore, her poems appear in the original Belarusian with English translations on facing pages, and Mort herself has wittily said: "Poetry translations are like men. If they are beautiful, they are unfaithful. The translations here are done by Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Franz Wright, and they're very beautiful indeed:
the memory of you
is like a needle in hay
that cannot be found
but every time tumbling with another man
in that hayloft