Dickey, James (Vol. 10)
Dickey, James 1923–
Dickey is an American poet, novelist, critic, screenwriter, and essayist. His poetry possesses a strong rhythmic pattern, expressing his concern with the cycles of love and death and the interaction of man and nature. Dickey has enjoyed acceptance in both the popular and academic worlds. He received the National Book Award in 1965 and has served as the Consultant on Poetry in English to the Library of Congress. Dickey's novel Deliverance was made into a successful film. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 4, 7, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)
Paul G. Italia
Perhaps [the patterned brutality in Deliverance] is nothing more than a macabre symmetry, a grimly humorous instance of "poetic justice," in which each of the perverted primitives gets what he deserves where he deserves it. But there is something more; the neatly ironic balancing of sin and retribution, of crime and counter-crime, is transcended by the mystery formed between the civilized hunter and the primitive one. What results from this whirlwind weekend courtship with death is love. (p. 204)
There are perversion and fantasy present in [the love scene between Gentry and his wife, a] scene of "civilized" love: it has one other important element in common with the climactic hunt—dreams and dreaming. For night (with its fantasies, inversions, dreams) constitutes the "atmosphere" of both the love-episode and the hunt-episode. Indeed, the scene that describes Gentry's embrace of his wife opens with his musing upon dreams…. Gentry defines wakening as the attempt to "get clear of" where he had been. Dreaming becomes another vehicle to illustrate his struggle to escape death and find "another life." Gentry's definition of dreaming takes us out of the bedroom and into the wilderness, out of the love-scene and into the hunt. And the dream ends in each episode with deliverance. A close look at that hunt furnishes the perspective needed to view this collage of night, dream, fantasy, and perversion.
(The entire section is 1730 words.)
Robert Penn Warren
["The Zodiac"] is consistently demanding, characteristically eloquent and often in an original way, and sometimes magnificent. I can think of no poem since Hart Crane's "The Bridge" that is so stylistically ambitious and has aimed to stir such depths of emotion. Like "The Bridge" (and most works of man's hand) this poem has certain limitations and defects that may provoke quarrel: for instance, the structural principle of progression for the first seven or eight sections is not always clear, and there is again some sort of structural blockage in the last two sections—defects in, we may say, the dramatic pivots. But the audacity of imagery, assemblage of rhythms, the power of language redeems all—in a period too often marked by a delicate hovering over the fragile merely because it is fragile and the prosy because it is prosy, the celebration of sensibility as such, polite or academic scrupulosities, self-pity in a cruel world, craven free verse lacking basic and projective rhythms.
In one sense "The Zodiac" can be said to be about the over-ambitiousness of poetry—even as it celebrates its ambitiousness….
The poem is a metaphysical poem, one that with passion, rage, eloquence, and occasionally hysterical yammer asks a metaphysical question as a form of poetry. If for nothing, it would be memorable for the passage that seals the end…. (p. 8)
Robert Penn Warren, in...
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Dickey, after the lapse of his later poems,… ventures everything in The Zodiac, a longish poem of some 30 pages loosely based upon a modern Dutch original. Dickey's "drunken and perhaps dying Dutch poet" speaks for Dickey's own will-to-power over language and the universe of sense, a will so monomaniac as to resemble Ahab's, rather than Melville's. The Zodiac is obsessive and perhaps even hysterical verse, and after a number of readings I am helpless to say whether, for me, it works or fails. I cannot say whether Dickey has mastered his own language here or not, but I will have to keep going back to this poem, as will many other readers. It ends as strongly as anything in the Orphic and Promethean demi-god Dickey: "So long as the spirit hurls on space / The star-beasts of intellect and madness." (p. 22)
Harold Bloom, in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1976 by The New Republic, Inc.), November 20, 1976.
(The entire section is 159 words.)
"[The Zodiac] is based on another of the same title by Hendrik Marsman", Dickey explains, and "with the exception of a few lines, is completely my own." "Based" is the warranted word. Part I of Dickey's poem is almost as long (414 lines) as the whole of Marsman's (422), Parts II-XII even longer. But the telling difference grows out of the two conceptions of the hero: "A drunken Dutch poet who returns to his home in Amsterdam after years of travel and tries desperately to relate himself, by means of stars, to the universe."… (p. 120)
[The] two works … are fairly close in story but in other ways vastly apart. Marsman's narrator describes and interprets the hero's thoughts, feelings, acts; he philosophizes, he exclaims—and all in verse of conventional patterns: spare, condensed, restrained. In Dickey's poem the hero himself speaks, moans, shouts, questions, streams with visions, spits out four-letter words, curses his soul and God. Dickey disposes the words on the page as a prosody music-score, the margins and spaces reflecting the twists, turns, leaps of a man half-drunk, half-mad, half-supersane: a more-than-lifesize creature torn between whisky and stars. (pp. 120-21)
Mallarmé sought "the secret's answer" on earth ("Things already exist … we have simply to see their relationships"); the Dutch poet reads it in the sky. But for both, humanity's salvaging power is the same: the "creative" answer....
(The entire section is 516 words.)
Raymond J. Smith
[The] protagonist of Dickey's [The Zodiac], a Dutch poet who uses the expression "Old Buddy," is a drunk. One would have hoped that the romantic image of the whiskey-poet had been finally smashed by Berryman's suicide. Not so. Alcohol and creativity go hand in hand for this poet….
More of a tour de force than the mesmerizing "Falling" or the brilliantly Gothic "May Day Sermon," The Zodiac marks a new departure for Dickey in that it is derivative…. (p. 96)
Dickey has divided his poem into twelve parts (related only numerically to the signs of the zodiac), each of which focuses upon a particular episode in the life of a man who after many years of travel has returned to his home town (Amsterdam), where he tries to order his life…. (pp. 96-7)
Specifically Dickey's is the drunkenness of the protagonist, as well as an appropriate openness of style (marked by an infusion of the colloquial) and form (the words sprawl drunkenly across these pages which [have been] widened for Dickey's purposes), which was anticipated by his previous book, The Eye-Beaters, Blood, Victory, Madness, Buckhead and Mercy. At its worst, the openness leads to something like this:
Son of a bitch.
His life is shot my life is shot.
It's also shit. He knows it. Where's it all gone off...
(The entire section is 701 words.)
Diane A. Parente
As a reviewer, I find myself somewhat intimidated, even awed by this beautiful, ambitious concert of effort. Artist (Marvin Hayes) and Poet (James Dickey) have combined talents to produce [God's Images] a new vehicle through which to experience the Bible.
Biblical events and personalities come alive in a series of fifty-three striking etchings, each accompanied by a reflective, poetic meditation….
The verbal images will evoke a … varied response from those who pause to read and reflect. Diversity is the key word here, the author's personal reactions to the Biblical passages illustrated—now it takes the form of a poetic retelling of a Biblical event modernized by expanded imagery, then there are the first-person reactions of a Biblical character as he or she confronts his moment of truth, and scattered throughout are the gem-like reflections which provide insight and inspiration for the reader rather than simply expanding his experience of the Bible. (p. 283)
Diane A. Parente, in Best Sellers (copyright © 1977, Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation), December, 1977.
(The entire section is 165 words.)
Leonard Lutwack, in Heroic Fiction, has stated that Melville's Moby-Dick introduced "unequivocally the spirit of the epic to American fiction by daring to endow native materials with qualities of the heroic past."… James Dickey's Deliverance … fits the ancient pattern more closely than any of the novels Lutwack chooses to discuss (it seems, in fact, an almost perfect embodiment of Joseph Campbell's "monomyth"). (p. 128)
In a time when the suspicion begins to grow, as Mailer puts it, that "nothing is nailed down" or, as Lewis puts it, that "nothing 'stays put,'" Dickey would take us back across time to the time before man had a sense of history but did, instead, take "for granted" his place in the natural cycle of birth and death. The country people in Deliverance seem grotesque and simple-minded to city people like Bobby, Drew, and Ed, but Lewis Medlock tells Ed that "we're lesser men" … than they, because they live the kind of natural existence that city-bound men have lost over the civilized centuries.
Lewis Medlock is cut from the mold of the "primitive" epic hero, the champion of a "less sophisticated way of life" who is as ready to "plunge outside of history" as Ellison's Tod Clifton. As Odysseus was the man "never at a loss," Lewis is, according to the narrator Ed Gentry, "the only man I knew who could do with his life exactly what he wanted to."… "He was not only...
(The entire section is 1998 words.)