Award-winning Kansas author brings superhero poetry to 'Smallville' in Hutchinson
WICHITA — Fighting villains and jumping from skyscrapers is natural for Wichita-based poet Bryan Dietrich. The only caveat is he does these actions in an alternate world; one he creates with pen and paper.
With a mother cloistered in her bedroom and a father globetrotting the world with the U.S. military, master poet Bryan Dietrich spent much of his childhood with his siblings — alone.
He read voraciously and at an early age was introduced to Superman, Wonder Woman and the Joker. Both superheroes and villains intrigued him. As a kid growing up in Oklahoma, their world became a part of his universe.
Having been nominated for four Pulitzer prizes in poetry as well as a two-time finalist for the Bram Stoker Award, Dietrich's poetry goes deeper than just the outer layers of superheroes; he explores their psyches and makes them three-dimensional, always aware of their strengths and vulnerabilities.
His first book, "Krypton Nights," won the coveted Paris Review Poetry Prize.
To celebrate Hutchinson's Smallville Festival, which begins on Thursday, Dietrich, who holds a Ph.D. and is an English professor at Newman University, will read from "Single Bound" at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Crow & Co. on Main Street.
Dietrich's double poetic tome, which includes both his "Krypton Nights" and "Amazon Days," captures the life of Wonder Woman and Superman. But it goes deeper. Dietrich examines himself and his wife, their relationship, and the history and lives of the superheroes.
Hutchinson will celebrate Smallville, the fictional town where Superman grew up, with festivities running from Thursday through Saturday. Dietrich's superhero theme works well with the festival.
"Bryan is a lover of all things comics," said Sara Crow, co-owner of Crow & Co. Bookstore. "He's going to fit in perfectly with the Smallville concept."
Bryan Dietrich is the 'geek poet'
"He (Dietrich) delves into the deeper side of the American mythology of comics and monsters," Crow said. "He's been given the moniker of geek poet."
Each of Dietrich's books is different, but mainly they fall into two categories — pop culture and genre-focused.
"But they all have that patina of pop culture," he said.
Because Dietrich's father was "math-minded" and his mother suffered from mental illness, he delves into the feelings and sensibilities of living with this disease from the outside in. But all the while, with a deftness of pen, he brings in his coveted superheroes.
Other than attending school, Dietrich was forced to remain at home with his mother and four older sisters — who he lovingly calls his "other mothers." Because of his upbringing — no birthday parties or playdates — Dietrich uses his childhood pain and raw emotion to sprinkle into his text.
"There are good parts (to my childhood)," he said. "But even the bad parts make for good poetry."
Dietrich said he envisions parts of the Bride of Frankenstein as his mother and the Wolfman as his father.
"I fell in love with superheroes and monsters and that's informed my writing ever since," he said.
Dietrich will read at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Crow & Co. from his recently released book, "Starting to Nod." It is in this book he pulls away the veneer.
"I rip off the mask and I start behaving like a human being who's trying to fix their emotional trauma without superhero powers or without some mad science elixir," he said. "In the real world, you haven't got a cape; you haven't got a Bunsen burner."
For Dietrich, "Starting to Nod" focuses on loss and despair as well as rebirth through love and companionship.
Dietrich's books include: "Krypton Nights," "Universal Monsters," "The Assumption," "Love Craft," "Prime Directive," "Amazon Days," "The Monstrance," "Single Bound: Krypton Nights / Amazon Days" and "Starting to Nod (Finishing Line Press, 2021)." He also co-authored "The Demeter Diaries" and is the author of a book-length study on comics.
Dietrich is co-editor of "Drawn to Marvel," an anthology of superhero poetry. His short stories have appeared in Asimov's Sci-Fi Magazine, Poetry Magazine, Yale Review, The Nation, and The New Yorker.
"He finds deep and sad and beautiful aspects to things some people would consider kind of trivial, but it is really the mythology of modern America," Crow said. "He humanizes and flushes them out and gives them a reality."