The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Cherrylog Road” is a narrative poem, a memory recounted in the first person. The title identifies the setting of the event that the speaker recalls: Cherrylog Road is the location of a junkyard in which the speaker meets his teenage lover for secret assignations. As the title suggests, the poem pays a lot of attention to setting, even identifying Cherrylog Road, in the first and last stanzas, as a roadway branching off of Highway 106. In spite of this specificity, the poet identifies the location only as an unnamed “southern-state.” Details reveal that the setting is the rural South—bootlegging country—and that the time of year is summer.

The speaker arrives at the junkyard first for a prearranged meeting with his lover, Doris Holbrook. Little information is offered about Doris except that she lives nearby and must meet the speaker on the sly for fear of retribution from her father. While waiting for Doris, the speaker explores the junkyard, moving from wrecked car to wrecked car and fantasizing about their owners or picturing himself as a race car driver. As his anticipation mounts, his imagination turns to Doris, and he speculates about the unpleasant consequences of being caught by her father. By the middle of the poem, the speaker hears the sound of Doris approaching, tapping the wrecked cars with her wrench (she must return with used car parts to explain her absence from home). However, it is not until the fifteenth of eighteen stanzas...

(The entire section is 406 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Cherrylog Road” is an easy poem to read, and its accessibility results from James Dickey’s use of straightforward diction, conventional syntax, and grammatical sentences. Yet the poem’s 108 lines make up only nine sentences, which are spread over eighteen six-line stanzas. Though the stanza structure is regular, the verse is unrhymed and the line length varies from four to ten syllables. Six-and seven-syllable lines with three stresses are the most common, but the metrical variation approaches free verse.

The most notable poetic devices appear in the use of figurative language, which reinforces the poem’s emphasis on connecting descriptive detail to the speaker’s state of mind. Some of the figurative language seems natural to the junkyard setting, as when the poet uses a simile to compare the speaker’s posture in a wrecked car to a driver “in a wild stock-car race” or when a metaphor presents the junked vehicles as “stalled, dreaming traffic.” The automobile imagery becomes more blatantly symbolic, however, when the junkyard is called “the parking lot of the dead” or when the sun is personified as “eating the paint in blisters/ From a hundred car tops and hoods.” Other examples of figurative language hint at how the speaker’s erotic anticipation colors his description. The sun-warmed interiors of the cars are described as possessing “body heat,” the center of the junkyard is its “weedy heart,” and the torn...

(The entire section is 591 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Bruccoli, Matthew J., and Judith S. Baughman, eds. Crux: The Letters of James Dickey. New York: Knopf, 1999.

Calhoun, Richard J., ed. James Dickey: The Expansive Imagination. Deland, Fla.: Everett/Edwards, 1973.

Calhoun, Richard J., and Robert W. Hill. James Dickey. Boston: Twayne, 1983.

Dickey, James. Classes on Modern Poets and the Art of Poetry. Edited by Donald J. Greiner. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2004.

Dickey, James, Barbara Reiss, and James Reiss. Self-Interviews. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1970.

Heyen, William. “A Conversation with James Dickey.” Southern Review 9 (1973): 135-156.

Kirschten, Robert. James Dickey and the Gentle Ecstasy of Earth. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988.

Kirschten, Robert, ed. Critical Essays on James Dickey. New York: G. K. Hall, 1994.

Lieberman, Laurence. The Achievement of James Dickey: A Comprehensive Selection of His Poems with a Critical Introduction. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, 1968.

Van Ness, Gordon. Outbelieving Existence: The Measured Motion of James Dickey. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1992.