Frederick Seidel James Dickey - Essay

James Dickey

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Literary influence is to be noted in the work of every poet—after all, one does not write in limbo—but in Frederick Seidel's case his relationship to the poetry of Robert Lowell amounts not so much to influence as to slavery. "Now the green leaves of Irish Boston fly or wither / Into blood-red Hebrew, Cotton Mather's fall." The diction is the same as Lowell's, as are the historical references, the inflated, hortatory style which manages to be at the same time mockurgent and pompous, arrogant and self-pitying, and worst of all, the systematic and somewhat callous use of personal confession as a device to produce awed silence in the reader, who is supposed to sit humbly, his critical faculties turned to dust, in the presence of The Truth. Here as elsewhere, however, imitation and shock tactics are no substitute for personal creativity. We are not likely to get a better illustration of this truism for some time to come….

Mr. Seidel's book has some shocking stuff in it …; it is sure to offend a rather wide range of individuals and organizations. Excitement of this variety, however, is about the only kind it is likely to provoke, for Mr. Seidel's talents are by no means imposing. (p. 4)

James Dickey, "Tactics of Shock, Discoveries of Innocence," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1963 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 1, 1963, pp. 4-5.∗