Monday, December 20, 2010

Yet Another Tribute to The Greatest Movie Never Made

Review: Jeff Bridges headlines the triumphant 'True Grit' for the Coen Brothers

The Dallas Morning News

As a longtime fan of Joel and Ethan Coen, one of the things that I have always taken a special delight in is the love they have for language. 

After all, it was a line of dialogue maybe five minutes into the first film of theirs that I saw, 1986's "Raising Arizona," where I fell in love with them:  "Her insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase."  I still remember reading the script for "Miller's Crossing" a few months before it came out and just reading and re-reading that opening monologue out loud, basking in the cascade of language.  "The Big Lebowski" is like a ballet of profanity, every stammer and shouted swear a perfect punctuation for the unbalanced adventures of the Dude.  "Fargo" makes high comedy of a regional accent, and nobody finds a more adorable way around a sentence than Marge Gunderson.  And in their unproduced adaptation of "To The White Sea," there's an amazing monologue at the beginning, straight out of the James Dickey novel, that I could picture them cackling about as they wrote it. ... (more)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Best Buy for Literate Person on your List --NOT A COOK BOOK but filled with delicious soul food

 DON'T LEAVE HUNGRY: Fifty Years of Southern Poetry Review

From Nancy Simpson's "Living Above the Frost Line":

...And now for the "main course," as Guy Owen called them, arranged and introduced by decade, with Smith's usual clarity of style and presentation! As the dust jacket notes, this anthology "charts the development of this influential journal decade by decade, making clear that although it has close ties to a particular region, it has consistently maintained a national scope, publishing poets from all over the United States. SPR’s goal has been to celebrate the poem above all, so although there are poems by major poets here, there are many gems by less famous, perhaps even obscure, writers too. Here are 183 poems by nearly as many poets, from A. R. Ammons, Kathryn Stripling Byer, James Dickey, Mark Doty, Claudia Emerson, David Ignatow, and Carolyn Kizer to Ted Kooser, Maxine Kumin, Denise Levertov, Howard Nemerov, Sharon Olds, Linda Pastan, and Charles Wright."

But wait--why rush through a feast? In this first week of National Poetry Month, let's sit back and anticipate what waits for us tomorrow, several poems from this beautiful and generous anthology. And because these few poems I offer will, I hope, serve to whet the appetite for more, here is the publication information and a link to the University of Arkansas Press. (Copied article written by Kathryn Stripling Byer April 1, 2009.)
Want to buy a copy? click on University of Arkansas Press URL

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The James Dickey "Goodbye to Serpents" bench in front of the Vivarium at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris on Saturday, and our old friend the Gabon Viper inside.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

"Deliverance" and "The Wilding"

Benjamin Percy's new novel, "The Wilding," looks like one to watch, and it's good to see him acknowledge so openly his debt to the work of James Dickey. An excerpt from Percy's interview on the Powell's Books Blog:

Percy: Well, the novel is in so many ways about animalistic impulses. Every character is struggling with this inner wilding, and in some cases it boils over. It manifests itself most obviously in the character of Brian, who in donning this hair suit becomes almost lycanthropic. Then there are more subtle examples such as with Karen, where she's stepping outside the boundaries of marriage and wrestling with sexual impulses that might lead her away from her family. This is an idea that parallels some of what we see in James Dickey's Deliverance. This year marks the 40th anniversary of that novel, and it's one of the most important books in my library. I modeled The Wilding in many ways after it. If you look at Deliverance, it's one of the central themes that Dickey is trying to explore as well.
I didn't set out to write about animal instinct. I didn't set out to write about the clash between wilderness and civilization. I never set out with a theme in my mind. I begin with images in mind, with characters in mind, and the themes rise up organically. It's at first an instinctual process for me, and then it becomes more intellectual as I go through draft after draft. Dickey's Deliverance and its furry, toothy core became kind of a model for this work.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Pat Conroy on James Dickey

Pat Conroy's appreciation of James Dickey as poet, novelist and teacher in Conroy's new book, "My Reading Life," is simply magnificent. It draws on both the eulogy Conroy delivered in 1997 and the speech he made on the tenth anniversary of Dickey's death. Part of the manuscript for that talk is reproduced here:

Wild To Be Wreckage Forever

Let me now praise the American writer, James Dickey. I will make a few critical remarks about him during the course of this talk, but that is only because he is dead and I don't have to worry about him beating me up after the conference is over. It will also make me appear less sycophantic about James Dickey's achievement .... But let me open with a statement of my own passionate and indignant belief -- I do not care one goddamn thing about how James Dickey conducted his personal life. I care everything about what this man wrote on blank sheets of paper when he sat alone probing the extremities of his imagination. I don't care if James Dickey slept with a thousand women or the entire football team at Clemson or the marching band ...

For a full schedule of Conroy's readings, visit his site at:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Party at Carolyn Kizer's house, Georgetown, Washington D.C., Circa 1967

Photos courtesy Jill Bullitt

Pulitzer-prize winning poet Carolyn Kizer was also a great Washington hostess in the 1960s. In the top photogaphs, George Plimpton descends on the piano where Carolyn is playing. Her son, then known as "Scott" Bullitt, looks on. In the bottom photograph are then-Poetry Consultant James Dickey, George Plimpton, the back of Sen. William Fulbright's head (we think), Jill Bullitt, behind her Christopher Dickey, Scott Bullitt, and I'm not sure who that is on the far right.

If memory serves, this was the night my father got so drunk that, without a license and almost no experience behind the wheel, I had to drive him in his 427 Corvette out to Leesburg, an incident I wrote about at some length in "Summer of Deliverance."

-- Christopher Dickey

Sunday, September 19, 2010

From "The Paris Review," 1976


How can a young poet know if his work is really worthwhile?


You never know that. I don't know it; Robert Lowell doesn't know it; John Berryman didn't know it; and Shakespeare probably didn't know it. There's never any final certainty about what you do. Your opinion of your own work fluctuates wildly. Under the right circumstances you can pick up something that you've written and approve of it; you'll think it's good and that nobody could have done exactly the same thing. Under different circumstances, you'll look at exactly the same poem and say, “My Lord, isn't that boring.” The most important thing is to be excited about what you are doing and to be working on something that you think will be the greatest thing that ever was. One of the difficulties in writing poetry is to maintain your sense of excitement and discovery about what you write. ... You have to find private stratagems to keep up your original enthusiasm, no matter what it takes. As you get older, that's tougher and tougher to do. You want to try to avoid, if you possibly can, the feeling of doing it simply because you can do it.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

"Deliverance": The Movie - A New Appreciation

'Deliverance' Movie Still Delivers Nearly 40 Years Later

By Mike Gillis

The New York Times recently acknowledged the 40th anniversary this year of James Dickey’s novel “Deliverance,” a book that catapulted Dickey to fame. That celebrity was well deserved: Dickey’s novel leans on the linguistic mechanics of poetry, of which Dickey was a master, and weaves a brutal tale of four men who navigate away from the city to the backwoods of Appalachia for a respite, and, perhaps, a smattering of soul-searching. Instead, they stir up primal fear and death, and none leave the woods unchanged, if alive.

Dickey’s celebrity wrecked his family, according to a memoir he and his son, Christopher, penned, “The Summer of Deliverance.” It diluted his writing, too, he admits in the book.

It did, though, two years after its publication in 1970, lend itself to a rare phenomenon: a movie that rivals its source material. ...

Our familiarity with the men and the world, or what we think the world is in modern times, is what powers “Deliverance” -- the thin line between civilization and barbarism can be crossed quickly. On the other side of that line, the informed world is at the mercy of the fiends who ignore it.

Tackling that theme can easily fail, and Boorman seems to know this. His film, a horror film for sure, needs no special effects nor artificial music cues to signal his audience. The fear, anguish, anxiety and survival of four men are crystal clear. It’s on their faces and voices. That is what makes “Deliverance” a triumph of filmmaking and continues to earn it a place among movies still worth watching.

Friday, September 03, 2010

"Bomber County" and "The Firebombing"

Thanks, again, to Dwight Garner of The New York Times for pointing out this important passage in "Bomber County," Daniel Swift's extraordinary story of war, family and poetry:
“Bombing was to the Second World War what the trenches were to the First,” Mr. Swift writes, “a shocking and new form of warfare, wretched and unexpected, and carried out at a terrible scale of loss.”

Where poets like Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke and Siegfried Sassoon brought us nightmare visions of muddy trench warfare, Mr. Swift looks to writers as disparate as T. S. Eliot, Stephen Spender, Cecil Day Lewis (“a secret war poet”), Randall Jarrell, John Ciardi and James Dickey to describe the multiple horrors of the air war. Not all of these men actually fought in World War II, of course, but each seriously contemplated the world those bombers left behind.

Mr. Swift writes particularly well about why good poetry about air bombing is rare and valuable. “The poetry of air bombing requires a particular imaginative sympathy absent from other war poetry, and it must play between telling and deferring the tale: between the poet who survived and the others who died that night,” he writes.

In other words, the poet must confront the experience of those unfortunate souls on the ground — often civilians — as well as his own. He must speak in a voice “pitched between condemnation and celebration, between terror and relief.”

It’s a pleasure to walk through this verse with Mr. Swift. His tone is serious but open, scholarly but solicitous of the general reader’s ability to unpack sometimes dense poems. He performs worthwhile tasks, like reading the issues of The Times Literary Supplement that were printed during the war.

Near the end of “Bomber County” he makes the declaration — and this will astonish some poetry critics — that Dickey’s long poem “The Firebombing,” from his 1965 collection “Buckdancer’s Choice,” is “the finest, strangest poem of this kind of warfare.”

Dickey’s poem depicts a bomber 20 years after the war, older, fatter and now living in the suburbs. “Twenty years in the suburbs have not shown me/Which ones were hit and which not,” Dickey’s narrator says. “My hat should crawl on my head/In streetcars, thinking of it.”
At the end of the poem he is haunted, “still unable/To get down there or see/What really happened.”...

The complete text of the poem "The Firebombing" is available among the excerpts form James Dickey's "Selected Poems."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The New York Times on "Deliverance" at 40

Dwight Garner's appreciation of James Dickey's Deliverance and of his poetry should launch a long-awaited reexamination of his work:

"Dickey’s moral awareness infuses this book with grainy life; guilt and blame are not easily assigned. The book presents a quagmire none of its characters escape. In 2010, it’s lonely work looking for its serious successors." 

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

James Dickey in the Norton Anthology

I find James Dickey's poems to be immediate, and almost urgent. Yet there isn't a word in them that feels slapdash. They are obviously well-thought-out, well-constructed, yet behind them is a feeling of life, and breath, and truth. He's not afraid to look at something without blinking, and dig deep into it, to get to the heart of whatever experience it is.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Edward Byrne on "Sleeping Out at Easter"

When James Dickey introduced his first volume of poetry, Into the Stone (1960), he opened the collection with “Sleeping Out at Easter,” a poem he hoped would set a tone for those to follow. Dickey reported in his book, Self-Interviews (1970): “While I was writing Into the Stone, I was very much interested in experimenting with verse forms. I’ve always been a great admirer of Hardy and tried to take a lesson from him in inventing.” In “Sleeping Out at Easter,” Dickey tested different approaches to the poem and arrived at a discovery of form complementing content: “Gradually, over a period of several weeks, I worked on it, italicized the refrain, tried a few other things, and it came out the way it is. It seemed to me to be quite a lucid poem—at least more lucid than what I had written up to that time—and at the same time mysterious. On the one hand, the story seems very clear. It’s just about a man sleeping in back of his house and becoming another person on Easter through the twin influences of the Easter ritual and of nature itself. His rebirth is symbolized by nothing more or less than waking up in a strange place which is near a familiar place.”

Drafts of the poem reveal the method by which Dickey established the persona, point of view, and process of discovery about details in the poem. For instance, the earliest version carries a different title, “Sleeping Out in June,” which probably reflects the actual timing of the event initiating his writing of the piece. However, after including language indicating a spring incident, Dickey changed the title to “Sleeping Out in April.” But by the final drafts, where Dickey had presented particulars suggesting religious allusions and symbolism, the title became “Sleeping Out at Easter.” In his biography of the poet, James Dickey: The World as a Lie (2000), Henry Hart comments: “The poem that begins Into the Stone, ‘Sleeping Out at Easter,’ typifies Dickey’s ritual and mythic approach to the world. Significantly, the narrator does not go to church on Easter Sunday to pay homage to the resurrection of the crucified Christ. Like Wallace Stevens’s persona in ‘Sunday Morning,’ he conducts his own service on his own turf and in his own way. Having camped out in an army blanket, he groggily wakes on Easter morning believing that he is ritually reenacting Christ’s resurrection and, in turn, all renewals of life from death.”...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Dickey once commented: “To have guilt you’ve got to earn guilt, but sometimes when you earn it, you don’t feel the guilt you ought to have. And that’s what ‘The Firebombing’ is about.”
-- Sherry Chandler's blog

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"The Greatest Generation" of American Poets?

An interesting post from Ron Silliman:

One could make an argument that there was a renaissance in American poetry, and that these poets were at the heart thereof, but it’s much more concentrated than, say, the Prohibition years. I’d go so far as to argue that it really concentrated around poets born between 1925 & ’27, tho the outer ring reaches back to 1922 & forward to 1930. Just 9 of the 63 poets in my augmented list were born outside of those years, while 26 were born in those three crucial years between ’25 & ’27.

It’s worth thinking about what that means in terms of American poetry, what social conditions emerged during the years in which those poets came into their lives as poets. It’s also worth noting that of the 63 poets, just two – Kaufman & Anderson – are African-American. The most obvious is that these are poets, especially those born in 1925 onward, who escaped WW2, but got to reap the benefits of economic prosperity & a rapidly expanding educational system, that both democratized post-secondary education after the war and ensured that pretty much anyone who wanted to could get a teaching job.

Second, not one, but both traditions in American writing underwent profound transformations in the 1950s, with the New American Poetry arising out of a strand that had mixed roots in both modernism & an Americanist tradition that could be traced further even than Whitman, while the neo-colonialist Anglophile poetics of the more genteel tradition likewise saw a hard rupture in the revolt of The Fifties, as Bly, Wright, Merwin, Rich & even Hall moved away from their own heritage of closed forms to embrace aspects of European literature & a more open poetics. What’s notably absent from Carruth’s list (& my expansion of it) are direct descendants of the agrarians: Randall Jarrell, Robert Penn Warren et al. James Dickey & Jonathan Williams are the only real southerners here, neither of whom could be so described. The closest you might get are indirect descendants, all students of Robert Lowell’s. Indeed one might say that the disappearance of the agrarian strain in American poetry is nearly as dramatic as that of the Objectivists, except that the Objectivists returned circa 1960, while the closed verse poetics of the agrarians simmered underground before returning as the New Formalism of a decade later.

So in the 1950s you had this clash between these two traditions – the raw & the cooked, as Lowell himself put it – but even the cooked poets were offering a version of nouveau cuisine, each side with its own variants. Phil Levine is as unlike Sylvia Plath as Gregory Corso is to Jonathan Williams. The degree to which these poets were their generation is worth underscoring. If I pick up one of the big double-issues of Poetry from that period, such as the October-November 1963 number, every single American poet born between 1920 and 1933 comes from the list above. All but two of the rest are older poets: John Berryman, J.V. Cunningham, Jean Garrigue, Randall Jarrell, Lowell, Charles Olson, Henry Rago, Theodore Roethke, Karl Shapiro, Elizabeth Bishop, Vernon Watkins & Louise Zukofsky. There is one poet who is younger, Ronald Johnson, born in 1935, and one British poet from this period, Charles Tomlinson. The 1965 double issue has fewer poets who are older (Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, Ernest Sandeen & Ted Weiss), and two who were born after 1933 (Ronald Johnson again, and Wendell Berry, born in 1934). Again there are two Brits, Tomlinson & Gael Turnbull, and nine poets from my expanded list: Carruth, Creeley, Kinnell, Koch, Levertov, Rich, Sexton, Snyder & Whalen. There is however one not on my list but from that generation, David Posner, born in 1921, educated at Kenyon & Oxford, who taught for awhile at the University of Buffalo & at the University of California (it’s not clear at which campus). Posner’s status within the canon, which is pretty much nil, tells you everything you need to know about the boundaries of this list.

The degree of prominence that so many members of this “greatest generation” earned was not solely because they were fabulous (some were, some weren’t), but because they were it, pretty much the sum of what was available by writers in that age cohort during those years. In 1960, they were the poets between the ages of 27 and 40. Ginsberg, for example, was just 34.

But by the middle 1960s, you already had the kudzuing of MFA programs across the land, meaning that there were an increasing number of writers everywhere. If you look at my expanded roster, one thing you will notice is that most of the poets who did not teach, or at least not teach much, during that decade, came primarily from the post-avant tradition: Eigner, Ashbery, O’Hara, Schuyler, Corso, Ginsberg, Spicer, Blackburn, Whalen, Corman. Ashbery & Ginsberg would go on to teach later, but not during that critical decade. So that even tho the numbers of post-avants and quietists are almost even in that expanded list, ten, fifteen years hence creative writing programs would acquire a distinct orientation – and reputation – they are only now fully outgrowing. ....(read on)

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

An Interview on the Occasion of James Dickey's Birthday

Scott Bowen posted this interesting little documentary on his blog along with an e-mail interview he did with Christopher Dickey:

For James Dickey: A birthday interview with his son, Christopher Dickey

The image of American poet James Dickey (1923-...

Image via Wikipedia

Poet, novelist, and critic James Lafayette Dickey was born today, February 2, in 1923. He died 13 years ago, on January 19, 1997, at the age of 74.

In his time, he wrote a ton of magnificent poetry unlike anything his contemporaries produced, and three novels. He won the National Book Award in 1965 for his book of poems, Buckdancer’s Choice, and served as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1966 to 1968.

I had the great good fortune to have studied with Dickey while in graduate school, and benefitted from his mentorship and friendship. I remember him joking at one of his Groundhog Day birthday parties, “The fox knows many things, but the groundhog knows one really big thing,” a quip I heard him repeat a few other times, as he was wont to retell his favorite notions.

Much of Dickey’s poetry has deep connections to nature, and examines thoroughly the exalting and conflicted relationship humans have with nature as they find it, and with their own origins in the natural world.

On what would have been James Dickey’s 87th birthday, I caught up with his eldest son, Christopher Dickey, the Paris Bureau Chief and Middle East Editor for Newsweek magazine, to ask some questions via e-mail about his father’s work, and about his own. ...

February 2: James Dickey's Birthday

He would have been 87 today.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Real Estate News: "Famous Citizens" of Columbia S.C.

Famous Citizens: Coach Steve Spurrier; anchor Rita Cosby; Leeza Gibbons; astronaut Charles Bolden; the late novelist and poet James Dickey; novelist William Price Fox; the late Republican National Committee Chairman Lee Atwater; Miss America Kimberly Aiken; Hootie and the Blowfish; actress Kristen Davis; Strom Thurmond; Jesse Jackson; the late James Brown; comedian Steven Colbert

Sunday, January 03, 2010