Critical Overview

(Poetry for Students)

James Dickey was an American poet fortunate enough to realize his popularity with the public and high regard from his colleagues while he was still living. From the publication of his early volumes of poetry to the best-selling novel and movie, Deliverance, to the collections of more recent poetry and the novel he was working on when he died—all were well received by most critics, fellow poets, and scholars over the years. Dickey’s use of intense language, his unique perspectives on common events, and his willingness to take on controversial subjects in his work made him one of the most talked about writers in contemporary literature. Critic Benjamin DeMott, writing for the Saturday Review, stated that Dickey’s poetry has a “feeling for the generative power at the core of existence. A first-rate Dickey poem breathes the energy of the world, and testifies to the poet’s capacity for rising out of tranced dailiness—habitual, half-lived life—into a more intense physicality….” Not surprisingly, Dickey was a recipient of numerous awards for his works, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Book Award, and a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award.

Of course, every popular figure has his or her detractors, and Dickey was no exception. Those who criticized his poetry and prose most often called attention to the abundance of violence it contained and the tendency toward taboo or “uncomfortable” topics. Because so...

(The entire section is 418 words.)