Thursday, October 31, 2013

Excerpts: Complete Poems of James Dickey reviewed by Times Literary Supplement (London)

Excerpts from the full-length essay in The Times Literary Supplement:

Am I still drunk?
By JULES SMITH, 25 October 2013
The Times Literary Supplement

James Dickey, THE COMPLETE POEMS, Edited by Ward Briggs 960pp. University of South Carolina Press. $85.

In the concluding scenes of John Boorman's film Deliverance (1972),
James Dickey (who wrote the screenplay and the novel it is based on) appears as the local sheriff, telling the north Georgia river's surviving canoeists "Never come back up here.” Dickey's poems share certain qualities of that character: a folksy, expansive machismo, capable of humour yet having an undercurrent of menace. The violent ecofable of Deliverance - suburban man confronted by savage nature - was also emblematic of Dickey's poetry, animated by visceral sensory experience, filled with scenes of hunting, fishing, war, sports and sexual obsession. A bizarre and poignant 1966 poem "For the Last Wolverine,” for example, invokes "the wildness of poetry,” urging the extinction-threatened wolverine and eagle to "mate / To the death in the rotten branches.” …

What this weighty Complete Poems convincingly shows is that Dickey's writing was always as much fictional as confessional, making emotive impact by rhetorical means, like the advertising copywriter he also was. Dickey once remarked that the poet "is not trying to tell the truth. He's trying to make it.” His favoured form was therefore the dramatic monologue, in which the poem "is both an exploration and an invention of identity.”





Consider the editor Ward Briggs's statement that Dickey was "transformed into a poet by World War II". The war provided a rich subject, certainly, yet many details in the works it inspired are invented, notably the beheading of an American airman by the Japanese in "The Performance" (1959). One of Dickey's most bitterly controversial poems, "The Firebombing" (1964), questions "aesthetic evil" in the thoughts of a pilot dropping napalm on civilians "In bed, or late in the public baths" when "One is cool and enthralled in the cockpit, / Turned blue by the power of beauty.”

The culpability of flawed characters runs through Dickey's writing, sometimes uncomfortably close to home, as with the lengthy, lurid flagellation scenes of "May Day Sermon" (1967) to the women of Gilmer County, Georgia, by a Baptist preacher exhorting punishment for sexual sins. … Dickey's descriptive powers are peculiarly distinctive when moving through landscape or suggesting a hunter's mystic sense of communion with his target, "like a beast loving / With the whole god bone of his horns: / The green of excess is upon me" ("Springer Mountain"). …

Ward Briggs's edition contains all 331 poems, in chronological order of publication, a structure that shows how he developed from clumsy early rhyming towards free verse dramas via continual experiments with poetic forms. Briggs meticulously lists publication data and textual variants and gives explanatory notes, incorporating Dickey's statements though also correcting them.

In later years, Dickey's tone became mournful. He reacted to the death of his first wife Maxine with poems about visiting her grave to seek forgiveness, and he lingered over his brother Tom's deathbed in "Last Hours" (1994). In a beautiful elegy to mark F. Scott Fitzgerald's centenary, "Entering Scott's Night,” he modestly places himself
among guests at one of Gatsby's parties, "A dark-glowing field of folk, the dead, the celebrants.” James Dickey claimed: "What I want to do most as a poet is to charge the world with vitality.” Despite what Richard Howard has called his "conflicted spirit,” and self-mythologizing - or because of it - this definitive edition proves that he succeeded.”

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Reading The Complete Poems of James Dickey

Christopher Dickey (photo), Ward Briggs and Ron Rash read from The Complete Poems of James Dickey, at the Southern Festival of Books over the weekend.

Humanities Tennessee made an audio recording of the reading, which we hope to share with you soon.

Monday, October 07, 2013

For Lewis King: The Last of the Deliverance Generation


These lines may not have been written about Edward Lewis King, Jr., nor for him, but they are of him, I think. Without him, James Dickey might never have found the river, might never have gone on the night hunt:

I stand in my own coming sleep,
A tall spirit ready to wind
LIke a ball of bright thread the wild river
All night around the still form
That shall lie exposed in the open,
Sustained at the heart of the danger
I have passed in the thickets this night
Which shall keep me safe till I wake
   And rise, and fall away.

Rest in peace, Lewis, the last of the generation of Deliverance, who died on September 12, in Sautee, Georgia.

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse/99/4#!/20588644/1

Friday, April 27, 2012

James Dickey, the Poet Laureate Years, 1966-1968



With Sen. Eugene McCarthy discussing poetry and politics before McCarthy's presidential bid, 1967-68

On the steps of the Leesburg, Va., house, apparently on the way to a serious engagement.

John Updike in James Dickey's pied a terre on Capitol Hill

At the Tomochihi archery range in Virginia.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

James Dickey at work in Leesburg, cerca 1967

We published the proof sheet for these photographs several years ago, but only found the negatives this weekend. Thanks to modern technology I was able to scan and print several of them. There's not quite as much detail as I would like; some of those negatives were pretty thin, and the scanning process (at least on my set-up) is not as good as chemical printing. But these shots that I took when I was fifteen did capture pretty well, I think, my father's way of working in the attic office of our house in Leesburg while he was the poetry consultant / poet laureate of the United States. I've also posted these pictures today on the Facebook page of the James Dickey Newsletter, where I asked the question: "What's that poem?"







Saturday, June 18, 2011

James Dickey's 1965 Note to Pitzer College - What's the Moscow Connection?

A bit of a mystery here: Laurie Babcock at Pitzer College keeps finding hitherto unseen records of James Dickey's commencement address there -- the very first -- in June 1965. This good-humored letter confirming the engagement turned up in the back of the first yearbook. Apparently it was sent from Northridge, California, where Dickey lived at the time. So, why are the Moscow addresses for the U.S. Foreign Service and The New York Times at the top of the page? Maybe they started out trying to get a correspondent or a diplomat and were rejected, then found Mr. Dickey. Anyway, we're waiting to hear back from Laurie to see if she has the answer.