Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"Poems 1957-1967" Back in Print

This from David Havird -- and we cannot thank him enough for his efforts:

"Chris, I wish you'd include this link among your "Deep Deliverance" links:
http://www.facebook.com/l/865aa;www.upne.com/0-8195-3073-5.html. It will let readers know that Poems 1957-1967 is back in print. I was after Wesleyan for years to bring it back, and the editor there finally agreed a couple of years ago--by then they had the ability to do small runs. I use it in courses whenever possible. Otherwise, it doesn't seem to get much play--or distribution. For me it's *the* essential book by a post-WWII American poet. BTW, I was a student and later friend of your dad's--I knew your mother well. I think that you and I met only once--when I was by the house in the mid 80s. As I remember, you were rummaging through the garage the whole time I was there. All the best, David"

Sunday, December 27, 2009

James Dickey in the Marble Quarry, Robert Penn Warren in Vermont stone, Randall Jarrell moving from Cheer to Joy, from Joy to All

I don't know who "Walter" is, really, apart from the fact that he's created a Web site with the url www.deadpoes.org and has a Maine license plate on his Dodge van that reads DEDGAR. But I like the handful of videos I've watched on his Vimeo channel, http://vimeo.com/deadpoets . There is something weirdly appealing, both homespun and hi-tech, about the whole notion of seeking out poets' graves and reading their works, then broadcasting on the Web so the whole world can share the experience. I think somebody should read James Dickey's "In the Treehouse at Night" in the graveyard at All Saints Waccamaw. (His epitaph, suggested by William Styron, is from that poem.) But in the meantime, these are four videos Walter posted that I found interesting, and there are dozens more that I have yet to watch. - CD

James Dickey's "In the Marble Quarry" read by Coleman Barks whose friends like buried beneath Georgia marble, with a final sequence showing James Dickey's own gravestone in South Carolina:

"In the Marble Quarry" By James Dickey from Walter on Vimeo.

Walter's Blair Witch visit to the graves of Robert Penn Warren and Eleanor Clark in Vermont in the dead of night is a little silly, and there is no reading, but it is hard to forget:

Cemetery Sleepover With Robert Penn Warren from Walter on Vimeo.

Stuard Dischell reads Randall Jarrell's stunning poem about the banality and tragedy of age, "Next Day," as he stands beside Jarrell's grave in Greensboro, North Carolina.

"Next Day" By Randall Jarrell from Walter on Vimeo.

Walter reads Roethke's "On the Road to Woodlawn" and some of Roethke's favorite lines from Sir Walter Raleigh:

Roethke & Sir Walter Raleigh from Walter on Vimeo.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

"Goodbye to Serpents": The James Dickey Bench at the Jardin des Plantes, Paris

Watching the Gabon Viper.

And as we were leaving the Jardin des Plantes, this "Encounter in the Cage Country."

Bull Sluice

When we were filming "Deliverance" in 1971, I was nearly killed in precisely this place doing much the same thing on the Chatooga River. We took a rubber raft over the edge, thinking we would bounce through, and instead it stayed in the middle of this torrent. My friends fell out and went downstream, but I stayed in the middle of the pounding water trying to rescue the raft (which belonged to Warner Bros.). Somebody threw me a rope, but it kept wrapping around me as I tried to find something to tie it to. Afraid that I would be strangled, I finally just held onto the rope and fell over the side, straight to the bottom before I was dragged out a little battered and white from fright. All of this is in "Summer of Deliverance," of course. Page 191, I believe: http://tinyurl.com/y8n3o96
-- CD

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Nature of James Dickey and Gary Snyder

This is an interesting essay by John Yohe comparing James Dickey's views of nature with those of another poet and contemporary of his, Gary Snyder. There are some factual errors in the brief biography of Dickey (he was a navigator and radio operator during World War II, not a "radar technician," and he didn't start teaching at Florida until 1954 -- that sort of thing). But the basic problem with Yohe's take is that he sees Dickey as threatened by nature and by such animals as the wolverine when in fact the key to his work was the ecstatic transformation of the poet/writer into the animals themselves. If there is something "threatening" about the beasts it is not the way they are in nature, but the way they exist inside of us. That is also part of what makes the animals -- and the poems -- so fascinating.

Having said that, it's worth noting that Dickey always liked to cite Aldous Huxley's essay "Wordsworth in the Tropics," about which see this interesting post of an interview with Peter Gilbert in Vermont: http://www.vpr.net/episode/44532/

Readers might also be amused by this post on the Dickey Scrapbook, which is a companion blog to this one: http://dickeyscrapbook.blogspot.com/2009/09/goodbye-to-serpents.html

In any case, for anyone interested in these subjects, Yohe's essay is worth a read:

Gary Snyder and James Dickey were born only seven years apart, and both went on to become famous poets from the 1960’s through to the 1990’s. They are both known as "nature" poets (Snyder more than Dickey), but each has a distinctive view of nature, as well as a distinctive poetic style. I was intrigued by the fact that both of their views on nature seemed to be true, or correct. I want to examine both the similarities and differences between these views, with the intention of finding out whether one view is "more true", or better, than the other.... http://tinyurl.com/yfovrqe

Monday, December 21, 2009

James Dickey and Typewriters

The L.C. Smith on which Dickey wrote Deliverance
Photographs (c) Christopher Dickey

A James Dickey quote many a writer will relate to, picked up by Scott Myers on his blog
"Go Into The Story":

On writing

"Any time I get a little money that I can spend on myself,
I buy another typewriter and put it in another room and
start another project. It could be a novel, it could be
a poem I'm working on, it could be a translation,
it could be an essay, a literary criticism, it could be
a children's book, it could be a film script and it could be
whatever it is I'm interested in doing at the time.
And in a strange way the different projects kind of
cross-pollinate one another. It's very odd. Almost a
mystical process. You see something in one typewriter
that would be better off in another typewriter."

– James Dickey


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Top Posts for 2009 on Valparaiso Poetry Review Blog

Edward Byrne's terrific essay on "The Last Lecture" of James Dickey in Number 4:

1. Inaugural Poem by Elizabeth Alexander
2. Elizabeth Alexander Comments on Her Inaugural Poem
3. John Ashbery, Pierre Martory, and Jackson Pollock
4. James Dickey’s Last Lecture: What It Means to Be a Poet
5. Rating Great Poets and Considering Contemporary Concerns
6. Sylvia Plath and Nicholas Hughes: Mother and Son
7. John Updike and John Cheever
8. John Ashbery Presentation at NBCC Ceremony
9. Craig Arnold, “Scrubbing Mussels,” and David Wojahn
10. W.S. Merwin Wins Pulitzer Prize in Poetry

This is the top of Ed's post:

“ . . . this will almost undoubtedly be my last class forever.”

James Dickey was born on this date (February 2) in 1923. Dickey’s reputation as a contemporary poet rose quickly to the highest levels in the early 1960s with publication of his first three volumes of poetry—Into the Stone (1960), Drowning with Others (1962), and Helmets (1964). About that third collection, Richard Howard later declared Dickey “as the telluric maker Wallace Stevens had called for in prophesying that the great poems of heaven and hell have been written and the great poem of the earth remains to be written (Alone with America: Atheneum, 1969).

However, in 1965 James Dickey produced Buckdancer’s Choice, winner of the National Book Award and one of the great collections of poetry of its time. In fact, this book, too often overlooked by recent readers of poetry, contains some of the more original and compelling poems to contribute to the body of contemporary American literature. Indeed, Dave Smith speaks of Dickey’s first decade of poetry in his book of criticism, Local Assays: On Contemporary American Poetry (University of Illinois Press, 1985), that it is “often as good as American poetry has gotten.”

In one of the three chapters concerning James Dickey in Unassigned Frequencies, Laurence Lieberman’s 1977 book of criticism on contemporary poetry, Lieberman describes the persona he finds in Dickey’s poems as “a unique human personality. He is a worldly mystic. On the one hand, a joyous, expansive personality—all candor, laughter, and charm—in love with his fully conscious gestures, the grace and surety of moves of his body. An outgoing man. An extrovert. On the other hand, a chosen man. A man who has been picked by some mysterious, intelligent agent in the universe to act out a secret destiny.”

Lieberman considers the major poems in Buckdancer’s Choice—such as “The Firebombing,” “The Fiend,” and “Slave Quarters”—as works in which “the conflict between the worldly-mindedness of modern life and the inner life of the spirit is dramatized.” Regarding Dickey’s fifth collection of poems, Falling (included in Poems 1957-1967), and its amazing title piece, Lieberman admires the poet’s “joy that’s incapable of self-pity or self-defeat. There is a profound inwardness in the poems, the inner self always celebrating its strange joy in solitude, or pouring outward, overflowing into the world. No matter how much suffering the poet envisions, the sensibility that informs and animates him is joy in the sheer pleasure of being.”

Anyone who met James Dickey may have encountered the poet’s “sheer pleasure of being.” His presence was felt whenever he entered a room, and his forceful personality certainly evoked various reactions, positive and negative, from those whom he engaged with his thoughts on poems, poets, poetics, and sometimes politics. In a chapter titled “James Dickey’s Motions” from Hunting Men: Reflections on a Life in American Poetry (LSU Press, 2006), Dave Smith explains that “Dickey cunningly and rightly counted on notoriety to carry his poetry to an audience usually indifferent to academic poems.” Additionally, his eagerness and ability to attract attention often led to instances of friction, controversy, and confrontation with a few fellow poets and critics, including an ongoing public feud with Robert Bly, especially during his difficult later years, much of which is chronicled in Henry Hart’s informative biography of Dickey, James Dickey: The World as a Lie (Picador, 2000) and Christopher Dickey’s more intimate and further insightful book about his father, Summer of Deliverance: A Memoir of Father and Son (Simon & Schuster, 1998). ... http://edwardbyrne.blogspot.com/2009/02/james-dickeys-last-lecture-what-it.html

This video clip, which Ed put on his site accompanying the post is interesting, but it is not nearly as strong as the audio from the last class. If there is enough interest from the public, I will post that here, too:

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Another blogger discovers the novel "Deliverance"

"... I’ve finally read James Dickey’s (pause for juvenile snickers) classic.
Apparently the flick is the birthplace of the gay fan-base…
The book is an amazing look at American existentialism, before we truly embraced extreme everything.
I closed it with a feeling of loss building in me. We’ve become so desensitized that I’m not sure a man today could be made of stern enough stuff to be broken.... http://edgejammer.wordpress.com/2009/12/19/deliverance-not-a-gay-romp/

Friday, December 18, 2009


As the son of a poet and the father of a lieutenant colonel, I read this exchange with great interest and, should the subject of James Dickey come up again, I'd be curious to know the colonel's thoughts on "The Firebombing." Back in 2003 I wrote a long essay about it because it struck me that the poem tried very hard to come to terms with the weird detachment that has come to characterize much of modern warfare. Anyone interested can Google "Firebombings: From My Father's Wars to Mine." The direct link to the pdf is http://www.strom.clemson.edu/events/calhoun/guests/dickey.pdf
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

From a recent blog review of "Deliverance" ...

"I bought the book because I heard there was a pretty gnarly sodomy scene but there turned out to be a really good book on both sides of it....."