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."