Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 658
Dickey, William 1928–
Dickey is an American poet. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)
A circumspect and troubled mind, William Dickey is … not always certain which experiences should be laughed off and which hoarded for graver treatment. In a number of poems in this short collection [More Under Saturn] he hesitates and earns a painful archness; since he is elsewhere superlative they are neither representative nor damaging. I think he's best when firmly confronting the public condition with serene loathing and crisp cinema or, alternatively, treasuring the private hour, reverent but skeptical….
His further, deeper subject (is it not implicit here?) is what he says he has always in America lived with, "the sense of wilderness"; he was speaking topographically but of course doesn't stop there, yet he's far from the juvenile yearning, "my unfilled spaces." A dominant theme in the best of these poems is the existential vacuum and the teasing confidence instilled by "the congratulating sun" after each awful night in which astronomy reminds us that we are anomalies on a planet with no special interest in our species…. Dickey is surely one of the best dozen poets now writing in the United States….
Vernon Young, in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1972 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXIV, No. 4, Winter, 1971–72, pp. 672-73.
I am genuinely puzzled by William Dickey's volume [More Under Saturn]. It is, in many ways, such a good book, so finely tuned to complicated emotions, lit up so often by moments of humanly generous insights. Yet the poems seem to happen far away, as if we were observing a landscape filled with excellent details, but composed by distance. Because the beauties of the scene are not urgent, we take them with a sense that we could also leave them. There are exceptions to this feeling, and Dickey creates some truly fine moments….
[The] poems, even at their best, seem leisurely and thin, as if they weren't telling the whole story, even though everything appears to be said, and said well.
[But] … More Under Saturn remains very much a book worth thinking about. The care and complexity of its language, Dickey's willingness to entertain difficult ideas, might serve as an antidote to the overly simple, overly conversational bent of so much contemporary poetry.
Paul Zweig, in Parnassus, Fall/Winter, 1972, pp. 177-79.
William Dickey has been aware for a while now that he was master of language's magic. There is very little that could be called incompetent in his first two volumes, and there is very little in More Under Saturn. What threatens William Dickey's poetry is competence, not its opposite. His is a world organized by a geometry of thought and emotion, but in which thought appears asymptote to emotion. This, however, is an illusion…. Dickey has his own poetic language, not an everyday idiom, and he is urbane in using it….
Although the power of Dickey's language is obvious, all too often it is employed in doubtful functions. Pulse [in More Under Saturn] I find banal, and The Ageing Lovers is labored beyond grace and elegance. Sometimes Dickey seems so confident of his writing, so certain of making it work, that his purpose for writing at all becomes obscured. But as I said earlier, this is an illusion. Canopus, Vega, Rigel, Aldebaran works very well, with only a touch of melancholy to flavor its sparse meditativeness. Native Resistances, a poem about ideas and the mind, succeeds, through a detailed, developed conceit. But Dickey can also capture in The Commencement as much authentic emotion as any poet. It is, perhaps, because his poems seem written in perspectives of time and space, abstractions that appear frequently in his poetry as themes as well as modes of interpreting, that we may tend to miss the earth in them.
John R. Reed, "Magicians and Others," in Poetry (© 1973 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), April, 1973, pp. 54-5.
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