Artists of the Year

Paul Dickinson

By Stephanie Wilbur Ash

I have a crush on a punk poet. Of course, being a recently divorced suburban housewife with an MFA, that's to be expected. It's my poet who's special. No poet I know can write about hitting a drunken sorority girl with a rented 1997 Chevy Astrovan like legendary St. Paul punk poet Paul Dickinson.

I've sat doe-eyed all year as he played a version of himself in the Electric Arc Radio Show. In one episode he offers a flame-thrower to another character with the fictionally true and very funny words: "I used it at a Loft reading I did once." And I've watched him waving his freak flag at the Turf Club in the newly revived Riot Act Reading Series, which he used to do at the Loring in the '90s while also ringleading underground punk shows at the old Speedboat Gallery.

Riot Act is a poetry reading in the Irish bard tradition—manifestos, rants, and drunken catcalls triumph over descriptions of the way snow looks on the beak of a hummingbird after your mother's funeral.

Paul D. has the pathos of a working-class Irish Catholic boy, the soul of the great romantics, the paranoia of an exonerated prisoner whose sentence has not yet been expunged, and the economic philosophy of a hobo. His mother looks like Joan Baez; his wife, a mermaid. He is the biggest mover of used copies of Mein Kampf on the internet. He was once behind a Minneapolis City Council motion to ban poetry readings in the city proper. He tried to hate Morrissey—"that whining Manchester wimp!"—but just couldn't do it. And even though he has an MFA from Amherst (oh, am I doe-eyed again?), he told me one night at the Turf that all you really need to be an artist is cheap rent in a crappy building and a couple of nights onstage at a shitty bar.

Stephanie Wilbur Ash is a writer and performer with the Electric Arc Radio Show.

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