Michael Dickel’s poetry defies easy characterization. The art in his new book, The World behind it, Chaos, including photography and digital art, moves like his poetry between the lyric and the surreal. While his poems also have a political bent, the visual art seems less inclined to the worldly. With the sound and imagery of the poems and the colors and textures of the photographs, both his poetry and art converge on the erotic. This book is not an art book, only; and it is not a poetry book, only. It is both art and poetry, exploding off the page into the domain of the reader. No essay or review can fully capture the tensions and complementariness of Dickel’s work, soon to be available from wv? eBook Press.

This book of poetry, photography and digital art has its own world of chaos and order; while no fractals appear as part of the art work, there is some sense of Chaos Theory here as much as of the disorder that is often behind the view screen of our lives, or just under the surface of our humanity / civilization. While this eBook makes use of the computer, the words and images do not feel like something from a computer—the layout of the book provides a unique juxtaposition of image and text that feels more like art than technology, despite the online format (I read the book in Adobe Acrobat—pdf—format, but it will be released in Flash and Flash Projector format).

Few books, whether print or e-books, in few book shops, will provide the experience these poems and this art provides. Michael Dickel begins this collection with the sharp intake of breath as inspiration in the form of a deer leaps across his path. He ends, however, with the stormy sea washing away the urban landscape, collapsing history in the forms of skyscrapers turning to sand beneath the force of waves. Yet, somehow, the poetry leaves us with a sense of hope, of love, of human possibility in the spiritual realm. The last poem, in the form of a nightmare, presents more of a warning of what happens if we don’t heed our own better natures.

The release of this book will support the theory that eBook press publication frees publisher, like wv? eBook Press, to make available books that otherwise would be too expensive to release. Color photos, in high quality, cost a lot to print. This poetry book will be available free of charge—that’s right, it’s a free eBook. While it would be nice, no doubt, for Dickel to receive money for his book, he has chosen to have readers / viewers first.

Some of this art and poetry has a deeply intellectual quality combined with spirituality. A photo may seem a bit mysterious, and, sometimes, transform from photo to something painted (Labyrinth 1-3). A landscape appears mysterious, overlaid with various seasons all at once (Autumnal). This is Not  a Poem, one of Dickel’s poems, tries to reach cubist aesthetics, taking words from one part in different order in the second, and lines from the first part re-arranged in the third part. The first word of each line of the first section, with some modification, is arranged in order (from first line to last) to form the first line of the second section, then the second words form the second line, and so on. The first line of the first stanza of the first section is the first line of the first stanza of the third section, but is then followed by the first line of the next stanza, and so on. Dickel, in this way, conveys the cubist sense of three dimensions in one flat painting. Michael Dickel’s use of form stems from aesthetics of painting and sculpture here as much as from conventional poetics.

Yet, sound, image, rhythm, all play a part in his writing. As does (with variation), at least one traditional form, the sestina. The sestina has six stanzas of six lines. The word at the end of each line is repeated in each stanza, but in a different order. Dickel’s poem, Sestina, responds to Elizabeth Bishop’s poem of the same name. And, in addition to the usual pattern, he places the six words of her Sestina (or close words) into the middle of his lines, rotating them in the same pattern.

This is not done obviously—as with the cubist form of This is Not a Poem, what is happening by way of words moving around in a nearly mathematical (are these the fractals of his chaos theory?) manner requires attention on the part of the reader to be noticed. The poems flow, the words of Sestina making sense and not sounding repetitive as they change meaning in their dance across the page. The same with the cubist form, while each section contains the same words (more or less), like the three dimensions of space, the reading of them does not make this obvious until a reader takes the time to study the craft behind the poem. There is a sense of abstraction, but also of coherence, language, sound, meaning. These poems, like the photographs and digital art accompanying them, do not overtly reveal a craft that is both real and innovative.

The media rituals of reviewing poetry and art, the painting rituals, the writing rituals of poetry all come to this, in my review of The World behind it, Chaos: Michael Dickel is a poet and artist worth paying attention to, worth noticing, worth reading. His innovations challenge a reader who wants to dive in, but his work also serves a reader who wants to understand. And the cost of this book is just right: free.

More of Michael Dickel’s previously published poetry, as well as photos and art, can be found on his web site. While this collection of poetry and art provides a coherent representation of the varied voices and styles of Dickel, his web site provides a nice way to peruse the work of a poet and artist we should all be paying more attention to. The book will be available from the eBook publisher arm of why vandalism? journal of art and poetry, wv? eBook Press.

The World behind it, Chaos cover