WRITINGS BY THE AUTHOR:
- Into the Stone and Other Poems, in Poets of Today VII, edited by John Hall Wheelock (New York: Scribners, 1960), pp. 33-92.
- Drowning with Others (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1962).
- Helmets(Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1964; London: Longmans, Green, 1964).
- The Suspect in Poetry (Madison, Minn.: Sixties Press, 1964).
- Two Poems of the Air (Portland, Ore.: Centicore Press, 1964).
- Buckdancer's Choice (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1965).
- Poems 1957-1967 (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1967; London: Rapp & Carroll, 1967).
- Spinning the Crystal Ball (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1967).
- Babel to Byzantium: Poets and Poetry Now (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1968).
- Metaphor as Pure Adventure (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1968).
- Deliverance (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970; London: Hamilton, 1970).
- The Eye-Beaters, Blood, Victory, Madness, Buckhead and Mercy (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1970; London: Hamilton, 1971).
- Self-Interviews, recorded and edited by Barbara and James Reiss (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1970).
- Exchanges (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.: Bruccoli Clark, 1971).
- Sorties (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1971).
- Jericho: The South Beheld, text by Dickey, illustrations by Hubert Shuptrine (Birmingham, Ala.: Oxmoor House, 1974).
- The Zodiac (limited edition, Bloomfield Hills, Mich. & Columbia, S.C.: Bruccoli Clark, 1976; trade edition, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1976).
- The Strength of Fields [single poem] (Bloomfield Hills, Mich. & Columbia, S.C.: Bruccoli Clark, 1977).
- God's Images: The Bible, a New Vision, text by Dickey, etchings by Marvin Hayes (Birmingham, Ala.: Oxmoor House, 1977).
- The Enemy from Eden (Northridge, Cal.: Lord John Press, 1978).
- Tucky the Hunter, text by Dickey, illustrations by Marie Angel (New York: Crown, 1978; London: Macmillan, 1979).
- Veteran Birth: The Gadfly Poems 1947-1949 (Winston-Salem, N.C.: Palaemon Press, 1978).
- In Pursuit of the Grey Soul (Bloomfield Hills, Mich. & Columbia, S.C.: Bruccoli Clark, 1978).
- Head-Deep in Strange Sounds (Winston-Salem, N.C.: Palaemon Press, 1978).
- The Water-Bug's Mittens: Ezra Pound: What We Can Use (Moscow: University of Idaho, 1979; Bloomfield Hills, Mich. & Columbia, S.C.: Bruccoli Clark, 1980).
- The Strength of Fields [collection] (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1979).
- Scion (Deerfield, Mass. & Dublin, Ireland: Deerfield Press/Gallery Press, 1980).
- The Early Motion (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1981).
- Falling, May Day Sermon, and Other Poems (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1981).
- The Starry Place Between the Antlers: Why I Live in South Carolina (Bloomfield Hills, Mich. & Columbia, S.C.: Bruccoli Clark, 1981).
- Deliverance [screenplay] (Carbondale & Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1982).
- Puella (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1982).
- Värmland (Winston-Salem, N.C.: Palaemon Press, 1982).
- The Central Motion: Poems, 1968-1979 (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1983).
- False Youth: Four Seasons (Dallas: Pressworks, 1983).
- Night Hurdling: Poems, Essays, Conversations, Commencements, and Afterwords (Bloomfield Hills, Mich. & Columbia, S.C.: Bruccoli Clark, 1983).
- Bronwen, the Traw, and the Shape-Shifter, text by Dickey, illustrations by Richard Jesse Watson (San Diego, New York & London: Bruccoli Clark/Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986).
- Alnilam (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1987).
- Wayfarer: A Voice from the Southern Mountains, text by Dickey, photographs by William A. Bake (Birmingham, Ala.: Oxmoor House, 1988).
- The Eagle's Mile (Hanover, N.H. & London: Wesleyan University Press/University Press of New England, 1990).
- Southern Light, text by Dickey, photographs by James Valentine (Birmingham, Ala.: Oxmoor House, 1991).
- The Whole Motion: Collected Poems, 1945-1992 (Hanover, N.H. & London: Wesleyan University Press/University Press of New England, 1992).
- To the White Sea (Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1993).
- Striking In: The Early Notebooks of James Dickey, edited by Gordon Van Ness (Columbia & London: University of Missouri Press, 1996).
- Deliverance, screenplay by Dickey, Warner Bros., 1972.
- Call of the Wild, screenplay by Dickey, Charles Fries, 1976.
- Writer's Workshop, videocassette including interview with Dickey, produced by University of South Carolina and the South Carolina ETV Network, 1992.
- "The Sacred Words: The Elements of Poetry," Literary Visions, videocassette including interview with Dickey, produced by Maryland Public Television, 1992.
- James Dickey at 70: A Tribute, script and narration by Ronald Baughman, photographs by Gene Crediford, produced by University of South Carolina Department of Media Arts, September 1993.
- Yevgeny Yevtushenko,Stolen Apples, includes twelve poems adapted by Dickey (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1971).
- Ronald Baughman, "James Dickey," in Dictionary of Literary Biography Documentary Series, volume 7: Modern American Poets, edited by Karen Rood (Detroit, New York, Fort Lauderdale, & London: Bruccoli Clark Layman/Gale, 1989), pp. 3-126;-- includes excerpts from Dickey's journals, letters, and other private papers.
- "Lightnings or Visuals," South Atlantic Review, 57 (January 1992): 1-14.
[This entry was updated from its original form in Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography, volume 8, pp. 52--67.]
James Dickey was a visionary poet who sought transformation of the Self in order to live as fully as possible. Immersed in death encounters, he formulated a poetic vision dramatizing his heightened sense of renewal to experience, to life. At the same time he recognized that death and the dead were his constant companions, and he consequently tried to maintain a balance between life and death by connecting with the Other. He attempted to transcend his station as a human being through an "exchange of identities," as H. L. Weatherby notes in his Sewanee Review essay "The Way of Exchange in James Dickey's Poetry." This exchange of identities--with other people, with animals, and with inanimate objects--became a means of acquiring their knowledge, of absorbing new and more expansive points of view. These concerns and this process were central to Dickey's poetry throughout his more than thirty-five years as a writer.
Born in Buckhead, Georgia, an affluent community then on the outskirts of Atlanta, James Lafayette Dickey, the second son of lawyer Eugene Dickey and Maibelle Swift Dickey, grew up with the knowledge that he was a "replacement child" for Eugene Jr., a brother who had died of meningitis. This early awareness of the relationship between death and life, reinforced by his combat experiences in early adulthood, contributed to his later poetic theme of living the Energized Life.
Dickey's high-school interests centered on athletics, particularly football and track. After graduating from North Fulton High in 1941, he attended Darlington School in Rome, Georgia, from 1941 to 1942. In the fall of 1942 he entered Clemson A & M (now Clemson University) where he played tailback on the freshman football squad, but at the end of his first semester, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. From 1943 to 1945 he participated in approximately 100 combat missions as a member of the 418th Night Fighter Squadron in the South Pacific.
After the war Dickey enrolled at Vanderbilt University, a change in schools that marked his shift in interest from athletics to academics. At Vanderbilt, Dickey soon came to the attention of English professor Monroe Spears, who recognized his student's literary talent and guided him to major in English and philosophy and minor in astronomy. On 4 November 1948 Dickey married Maxine Syerson, with whom he would have two sons, Christopher and Kevin. In 1949 Dickey earned a B.A. degree in English, graduating magna cum laude, and in 1950 an M.A. His thesis was titled "Symbol and Image in the Short Poems of Herman Melville."
Dickey began his teaching career at Rice Institute in September 1950, but four months later he was recalled to active military duty in the training command of the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. After completing his military obligations, he returned to Rice and began making journal entries toward a novel that thirty-six years later he would publish as Alnilam (1987). In 1954 Dickey received a Sewanee Review Fellowship, with which he traveled to Europe and concentrated on writing poetry. A year later he moved to the University of Florida where, with the help of novelist and historian Andrew Lytle , he had obtained a teaching appointment. He resigned this position, however, in the spring of 1956 following a controversy arising from his reading of his poem "The Father's Body." Dickey then left Florida for New York; there he established a successful advertising career, first as a copywriter and later as an executive with McCann-Erickson. During the next three years Dickey was associated with a series of advertising agencies. He eventually returned to Atlanta where he created advertisements for such companies as Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines.
While writing ad copy Dickey also added to his growing list of poetry publications and awards. In 1958 he received the Union League's Civic and Arts Foundation Prize from the Union League Club of Chicago for poems published in Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. A year later he won the Vachel Lindsay Prize and the Longview Foundation Award. A collection of his poetry was published as Into the Stone and Other Poems with work by Jon Swan and Paris Leary in Poets of Today VII (1960), and the following year he permanently abandoned his career in advertising. During 1961-1962 a Guggenheim Fellowship allowed Dickey to travel to Positano, Italy, where he composed Drowning with Others (1962). In Positano, as he noted in his January 1992 South Atlantic Review essay "Lightnings or Visuals," his 1970 novel Deliverance also had its origins: "the whole of my novel Deliverance came from an image that appeared to me when I was half asleep in full sunlight after a picnic in Italy, where I was living at the time.... The image was that of a man standing at the top of a cliff: that, and no more. The picture was powerful and urgent, but I had no clue as to any meaning, if there was or could be one: one discovered, one assigned."
Dickey returned to the United States in 1962 and spent the next four years as a poet-in-residence at such schools as Reed College (1963-1964), San Fernando Valley State College (1964-1965), and the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1966). His collection Helmets appeared in 1964, and his recognition as a poet was heightened when he received the 1966 National Book Award for Buckdancer's Choice (1965), the Melville Cane Award from the Poetry Society of America, and a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award. Between 1966 and 1968 Dickey served as consultant in poetry for the Library of Congress. During that time his Poems 1957-1967 (1967) and his collection of reviews and essays Babel to Byzantium: Poets and Poetry Now (1968) were published. In 1968 he was appointed poet-in-residence at the University of South Carolina, but because of contractual requirements with the Library of Congress, he did not begin his teaching position until the fall of 1969. In 1970 he was named First Carolina Professor of English at the University of South Carolina.
Dickey lived in Columbia, South Carolina, and taught at the University of South Carolina from 1969 to 1997. In this setting he produced many of his major works, including his popularly and critically acclaimed first novel, Deliverance, for which he also wrote the screenplay, suggested the musical theme "Duellin' Banjos," and acted the role of Sheriff Bullard in the Academy Award-nominated 1972 Warner Brothers movie. Other major Dickey works appearing during the early to mid 1970s were a poetry collection, The Eye-Beaters, Blood, Victory, Madness, Buckhead and Mercy (1970); two books on writing and the creative process, Self-Interviews (1970) and Sorties (1971); and a long poem, The Zodiac (1976). Dickey's first wife, Maxine, died in 1976, and that same year he married Deborah Dodson, with whom he had a daughter, Bronwen. Jimmy Carter invited Dickey to write and read a poem for the 1977 inaugural celebration in Washington, D.C. "The Strength of Fields," the poem Dickey wrote for that occasion, served as the title poem of his 1979 collection. The Strength of Fields was followed in 1982 by Puella, one of Dickey's most experimental poetry volumes, and in 1987 by Alnilam, his most ambitious novel. On 18 May 1988 Dickey was inducted into the fifty-member American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 1989 he was selected a judge for the Yale Series of Younger Poets, a clear indication of his continuing importance to and influence on American writers. During his seventies Dickey remained a prolific, energetic writer: he produced his final collection of poetry, The Eagle's Mile (1990), and his third novel, To the White Sea (1993). From November 1994 to the time of his death in early 1997, Dickey endured serious health problems but continued writing and conducting classes at the University of South Carolina. He taught his last class on 14 January and on the following day was hospitalized for the last time. At the time of his death he was at work on Crux, a novel set during World War II, and was overseeing preliminary work on a movie adaptation of his novel To the White Sea.
Dickey explored consistent themes throughout his career, though these themes were addressed through an increasing complexity of vision. Similarly, his poetic techniques evolved from the polished "closed" forms (often encompassing a narrative thrust) of his first volumes to the looser, "associational," "open" forms (predominantly lyrical in nature) of his later works. Dickey's first three collections--Into the Stone , Drowning with Others , and Helmets --are notable for their narrative power and careful metrical structures. To emphasize the dramatic element central to the poems in these collections, Dickey often employed a three-beat, anapestic line with trochaic and iambic substitutions; he aimed at memorable statements in individual lines and stanzas. In the poems of these collections Dickey used recognizable stanzaic forms, sometimes with a refrain that reinforced the unity in the individual works. Later, however, the poet evolved new forms to reflect his deepening vision. In Buckdancer's Choice, for example, Dickey began radical experiments with the appearance of the poem on the page and with speech rhythms in an attempt to avoid "artificiality." As he stated in "The Poet Turns on Himself," first published in 1966 and later collected in Babel to Byzantium:
I had in the beginning a strong dislike of rhyming poems, for the element of artificiality is one of the characteristics of poetry I most distrust, and I have always had trouble distinguishing between artificiality and the traditional modes and methods of verse; for a long time I was convinced that craft and artifice were the same thing.... Although I didn't care for rhyme and the "packaged" quality which it gives even the best poems, I did care very much for meter, or at least rhythm.
I began to conceive of something I called--doubtless misleadingly--the "open" poem: a poem which would have none of the neatness of most of those poems we call "works of art" but would have the capacity to involve the reader in it, in all its imperfections and impurities, rather than offering him a (supposedly) perfected and perfect work for contemplation, judgment, and evaluation.
The "open" poem was intended to reflect the workings of the mind by clustering images and ideas in short bursts. As its name implies, this form creates open spaces on the page that work against the confining appearance of conventional poetry. The form allows a layering of dramatic relationships among images, events, and wording. For example, when the voyeur in "The Fiend" (collected in Buckdancer's Choice) moves from the secrecy of tree-filled shadows back onto the sidewalk, he tries to appear an ordinary public man again:
For Dickey the "open" poem invited the use of what he called "associational" imagery, though he did not fully define the special qualities of this imagery. In "Pine" (collected in The Eye-Beaters) the wind in the pine tree is described through a series of breath images that encompass clouds, trees, and the whole of nature:
Drawing upon Gerard Manley Hopkins and Hart Crane as models, Dickey further developed his lyrical language experiments in Puella and The Eagle's Mile. In these two collections his language became increasingly abstract, increasingly difficult, as "In Lace and Whalebone" from Puella illustrates: "
The literary Self, which is at the technical and thematic center of Dickey's poetry, is presented as his "writing instrument ... which has the quality of [the poet's] personality as an informing principle," he states in "The Second Birth," an essay collected in The Suspect in Poetry (1964). The Self responds to and tries to comprehend experience, his own and that of the Other. Dickey's central character is often a solitary figure placed in a natural landscape, a location that allows transcendence from the ordinary into an enriched understanding of existence. The dynamic relationship between the Self and the Other--human or nonhuman--transforms both through an exchange of interiors. Once the connection is broken, the protagonist is changed, having experienced the thoughts or feelings of the Other, and he eturns to his original state, though now renewed by the exchange. In this sense, Dickey's poetry can be described as thematically and psychologically circular in structure.
The quest for transcendence takes various forms but is often expressed as a desire to achieve a kind of heaven on earth. The Self's attempts to attain this version of heaven--a state of living the fully energized life or, at least, of striking a harmonious balance between life and death--can succeed or fail. If the effort is successful, the speaker gains an almost Christ-like sense of "enthrallment"; if the connection falters, the protagonist's sense of loss is emphatic and he becomes an earthbound, fallen angel.
Dickey's early volumes --Into the Stone, Drowning with Others, and Helmets--define his primary themes and subjects--family, love, war, nature. Much of Dickey's work treats human relationships, particularly those involving the family; the relationships are potentially joyous but are also filled with painful complications, either because human beings fail to connect fully or because they are immersed in death. Dickey's early history provides a source for his complex relationship with the dead. As he declares in Self-Interviews:
I did have an older brother, Eugene, who died before I was born, and I did gather by implication and hints of family relatives that my mother, an invalid with angina pectoris, would not have dared to have another child if Gene had lived. I was the child who was born as a result of this situation. And I have always felt a sense of guilt that my birth depended on my brother's death.
In the collection Into the Stone Eugene dominates "The String," "The Underground Stream," and "The Other." In these poems he is variously described as an "incredible child" who, as Dickey states in "The String," is "in my mind and on my hands." In "The Other" Eugene is portrayed as "king-sized" and godlike, and the speaker takes an ax to a tree in an attempt to transform his own insufficient body into the ideal proportions of his brother. As the speaker chops, Eugene plays a "great harp" and sings "Of the hero, withheld by its body." Through his brother's music, the speaker gains an awareness that his life is dependent upon and haunted by his brother's death. "In that music come down from the branches / In utter, unseasonable glory, // ... coming to sing in the wood / Of what love still might give, / Could I turn wholly mortal in my mind, / My body-building angel give me rest, / This tree cast down its foliage with the years." The angel-like figure of the dead brother becomes an object to which Dickey's speakers aspire throughout his poetry. Yet they confront this figure with ambivalence since they cannot hope to measure up to, fully connect with, or exorcise this larger-than-life specter.
Dickey's war poetry, also introduced in his first three collections, further expands upon his complex relationship to the dead, particularly as a combat survivor. He senses that he has been given a second opportunity for life, that he has been singled out for a special purpose, but that he cannot fully escape the death-immersion to which war has subjected him. The stages in the process of moving from painful memories to a renewal of life are constant in Dickey's war poetry. His speakers first manifest self-lacerating anguish brought on by the harrowing combat deaths they have witnessed. To overcome such torments they confront the horrors of war through detailed re-creations of combat memories: "The Performance" in Into the Stone and "Between Two Prisoners" in Drowning with Others are two well-known early examples of confrontation through the dramatically re-created scene. Next, Dickey's speakers reevaluate or reorder their understanding of the meaning of their experiences with death, as in "The Firebombing," collected in Two Poems of the Air (1964), and Buckdancer's Choice. This process of experiencing anguish, confronting and re-creating the horrors that have produced this anguish, and reordering their understanding of their war experiences becomes the basis for his protagonists' renewal to life.
"The Jewel" in Into the Stone is a powerful expression of the process that Dickey's combat survivors undergo in attempting to comprehend the war and its effects on them. While camping with his sons, the middle-aged speaker realizes that he is "A man doubled strangely in time," for the setting--the night, the tent, the reflection in his coffee cup of "a smile I was issued"--moves him in his mind back to that period when he went through "his amazing procedure" inside a cockpit to prepare for nighttime bombing missions during the war. "Forgetting I am alive," he imaginatively re-enters the "great, stressed jewel," his airplane. In this setting he must remain a technically-minded operator who is not allowed to question what he is doing, who "Has taken his own vow of silence, / Alone, in late night." In the final stanza of the poem, however, the speaker returns to the present and expresses what has haunted him through all the years since the war: "Truly, do I live? Or shall I die, at last, / Of waiting? Why should the fear grow loud / With the years, of being the first to give in / To the matched, priceless glow of the engines, / Alone, in late night?" The speaker recognizes that he may be a casualty of war in two senses: by being seduced by the drama and opportunities for glory in war and by being haunted by his fear of his own death and his guilt at causing the deaths of others. He thus cannot be completely certain that he is truly alive, that he is not dying through his ambiguity-ridden memories. Yet he is making an effort to come to terms with these memories.
To escape the often painful world of man, Dickey often moves toward the nonhuman world of nature that seems to promise solace and edification. For the poet, nature is a powerful vehicle for transcending the world and moving into a realm beyond himself. Yet he fully realizes that nature often conceals its secrets--its wonders and its horrors--behind a mask that is only partially penetrable by man. "Walking on Water" in Into the Stone is an early statement of Dickey's view of man's relationship with nature. The young speaker rides a plank that he poles across "the shining topsoil of the bay," through "the sun / Where it lay on the sea." This single human being--a diminutive figure on a fragile piece of wood--contrasts with the broad expanse of sky overhead and the vast power of the ocean underfoot: "Later, it came to be said / That I was seen walking on water, / ... A child who leaned on a staff, A curious pilgrim hiking / Between two open blue worlds." The boy-"pilgrim" is suddenly threatened in this watery Edenic garden by a shark (rather than a serpent), changing the idyllic scene into one fraught with possibilities of danger. The speaker evades the shark by stepping on shore and pushing the plank out to sea, while a chorus of sea birds "nodding their heads" celebrate his escape from death "until I return / In my ghost, which shall have become, then, // A boy with a staff, / To loose them, beak and feather, from the spell / Laid down by a balancing child...." Yet "under their place of enthrallment, / A huge, hammer-headed spirit / Shall pass, as if led by the nose into Heaven." The child figure serves as a Christ-like median between heaven and the underworld, between eternal life and death. Nature's heavenly creatures, the birds, affirm the boy's power, but nature's emissary of death's underworld, the shark, demonstrates how vulnerable the living are to death's forces.
That the natural world may reveal either benevolent or savage secrets is even more fully explored in "Kudzu," a poem collected in Helmets. Kudzu, a vine imported from Japan to the American South for the beneficial purpose of preventing soil erosion, becomes as well a ubiquitous, suffocating Japanese invasion upon the Georgia countryside: "In Georgia, the legend says / That you must close your windows // At night to keep it out of the house." The kudzu covers and protects the surface of the earth but also conceals another of nature's harbingers of death, the snake: "For when the kudzu comes, // The snakes do, and weave themselves / Among its lengthening vines, / Their spade heads resting on leaves, / Growing also, in earthly power / And the huge circumstance of concealment." To rid themselves of the dangers posed by the snakes, Georgia farmers release their hogs into the tangled mass of vines, where the hogs brutally tear snakes apart, to the accompaniment of a "sound" that is "intense, subhuman, / Nearly human with purposive rage." Yet the pigs finally cannot eradicate the seething fusion of vines and snakes, "growing insanely," which remains a danger but also, ironically, a source of energy and exhilaration to man. Dickey's speaker, recording a kind of exchange between vegetable life and himself, declares:
In "Hunting Civil War Relics at Nimblewill Creek," collected in Drowning with Others, Dickey brings together many of his central concerns--family (which here involves his Southern heritage as well as a younger brother), love, war, and nature. The Civil War-battlefield setting of the poem allows the speaker to dramatize his relationship with his living brother while discovering a deeper connection with the Confederate dead of the past. While his brother searches the battleground with a "mine detector," the speaker watches his face--"For I can tell / If we enter the buried battle / Of Nimblewill / Only by his expression." The brother's facial responses--his silent smiles, the "faint light" that "glows / On my brother's mouth"--become the means of communication between the two brothers and between the living and the dead. As they walk through the battleground, the speaker observes that "underfoot I feel / The dead regroup, / The burst metals all in place, / The battle lines be drawn / Anew to include us" and that his brother--"a long-buried light on his lips"--"smiles as if / He rose from the dead within / Green Nimblewill / And stood in his grandson's shape."
Here the dead and the living are symbolically united, and as the brothers joyously hear "the dead outsinging two birds" that have accompanied them onto the battlefield, they also celebrate their own relationship as brothers, "Not breathing `Father,' / At Nimblewill, / But saying, `Fathers! Fathers!'" The brothers are thus transformed through their spiritual connection with each other and with their dead Southern countrymen. The war-torn battlefield has been claimed by nature--here portrayed as an unusually benevolent force--which facilitates the connection of the speaker and his brother with the Other, whether living or dead.
Dickey reached full maturity as a poet in his National Book Award-winning volume Buckdancer's Choice , which collects some of his most celebrated and discussed works, including "The Firebombing," "The Fiend," and "Slave Quarters." In this volume Dickey further probes his major subjects--war, the Self, the family, the natural environment. Both "The Firebombing" and "Slave Quarters" treat the issue of guilt (about combat involvement and slavery, respectively) and brilliantly employ the process of recognition, re-creation, and encounter found in "The Jewel." In both poems the threat of death and destruction, literal or symbolic, remains powerful, just as it does in "The Fiend," with its voyeur protagonist who simultaneously celebrates and stalks his female victims.
Yet in certain poems of Buckdancer's Choice, death becomes a force for transformation, which can be either positive or negative. In the title poem of the collection the approach to death of the speaker's mother becomes a model of creativity and courage. As she suffers in bed from angina pectoris, her antidote to dying is to whistle "all day to herself / The thousand variations of one song; // It is called Buckdancer's Choice." Her "prone music" conjures up in the child-speaker's mind the image of the "Freed black, with cymbals at heel, / An ex-slave who thrivingly danced," one of the traveling minstrels, "the classic buck-and-wing men." The dancer flaps his arms and elbows in a heroic if doomed attempt to transform them into angel wings, and these two performers--the mother and the black dancer, both "slaves / Of death"--unite in the child's mind as embodiments of the individual's courageous efforts not to give in. The mother's song rises
To transcend the realities of this world and to transform one's Self through connection with another being are clearly related to the concept of reincarnation. In Self-Interviews Dickey notes:
Reincarnation is one religious idea I have always loved believing in. I don't know whether the soul passes from one kind of creature to another; I hope it does. I would live this human life gladly if I knew I was going to be a bird--next time--or have any kind of consciousness at all.... I'd like to be some sort of bird, a migratory sea bird like a tern or a wandering albatross, but until death, until this either happens or doesn't happen, I'll have to keep trying to do it, to die and fly, by words.The poem "Reincarnation," which was first collected in Buckdancer's Choice under that title and was then retitled "Reincarnation (I)" for Poems 1957-1967, centers on a dead Southern judge who is reborn as a diamondback rattlesnake, a comic but illuminating comment on Southern justice. The snake, a symbol of evil and death, winds around the hub of a discarded wheel, a symbol of the life and death cycle, in wait "for the first man to walk by the gentle river." The diamondback has been so transformed that it has lost all traces of its previous existence as a human: "Fallen from that estate, he has gone down on his knees / And beyond, disappearing into the egg buried under the sand // And wakened to the low world being born, consisting now / Of the wheel on its side not turning, but leaning to rot away / In the sun a few feet farther off than it is for any man." This man-snake travels backward to a lower form of existence than he has enjoyed previously: "It is in the new / Life of resurrection that one can come in one's own time / To a place like a rotting wheel, ... stopped / By a just administration of light and dark over the diamonds / Of the body." The poet suggests here that the human judge has through reincarnation descended the chain of being, or perhaps simply confirmed the true position he occupied as a man.
In "Falling," a section of Poems 1957-1967 composed primarily of previously uncollected works, rising to and falling from great heights becomes a central motif in examining the human capacity for transformation, whether the mystical changes undergone by a stewardess as she falls from an airplane in "Falling" or the evolutions in character revealed by a lineman as he ascends and descends light poles in "Power and Light." "Reincarnation (II)," first collected in Two Poems of the Air, is perhaps the fullest explication of Dickey's theme of transformation. In this poem a desk-bound, sedentary office worker who has lived with a "clean desk-top" in a "hell of thumbs" discovers, upon his death and reincarnation as a migratory sea bird, that "I always had / These wings buried deep in my back: / There is a wing-growing motion / Half-alive in every creature." He thus achieves in this new life a consequence that he did not have in his previous life, and he acutely perceives the nature and reality of his experience. As Dickey states in Self-Interviews, "In this poem I wanted to show the voyage of a man who discovers himself reborn as a sea bird ... and comes to realize that this is not a dream he's having, that he really is a bird circling in a completely void area where there are no ships or birds. He realizes that this is not an hallucination; he really does have wings and a long beak." Reincarnated as an albatross, he circles toward the Southern Cross, "not to be taken in / By the False Cross as in / Another life," but to fly from the artificial heaven fabricated by man into the truer paradise of physical instinct known only by birds and animals. Yet ahead of the bird lie still further deaths and rebirths: "to be dead / In one life is to enter / Another to break out to rise above the clouds / Fail pull back their rain // Dissolve." For Dickey, reincarnation achieves only a qualified triumph over death, since rebirth is itself followed by succeeding deaths and rebirths in a never-ending cycle. However, reincarnation, the most dramatic expression of an exchange of identity with the Other, does provide an intense but momentary communion between the human and the nonhuman.
A major shift in Dickey's focus occurs in The Eye-Beaters, Blood, Victory, Madness, Buckhead and Mercy . Before The Eye-Beaters most of the poet's works began with the Self and then moved outward to connect the Self with another animate or inanimate being. In The Eye-Beaters the direction of the poems is inward rather than outward, and the Self becomes the principal concern as the speaker takes stock of who and what he has become. The protagonist in many of these poems is aging and physically ill, a condition that forces him to internalize the possibility of death rather than to examine it primarily in relation to others. Moreover, many of the poems focus upon relationships with family, friends, and lovers--relationships that are subject to the destructive powers of time."Variations on Estrangement," the subtitle of the final poem, "Turning Away," suggests the central subject matter of the collection. The speaker's increased awareness of his own inability to defeat time and death produces an unusually somber tone in The Eye-Beaters.
"The Cancer Match" dramatizes a physical breakdown of the Self. Recently released from a hospital, the cancer-ridden speaker concedes that he does not have "all the time / In the world, but I have all night." During this one dark night he wrestles with his soul by pitting bourbon against "this thing growing" inside, and like "judo masters," the bourbon and cancer war against each other--"Or are they dancing?" Although he has been told that there is no hope for recovery, the protagonist asserts an aggressive optimism: "Internally, I rise like my old self / To watch .... / We are looking at this match / From the standpoint // Of tonight / Alone."
As the struggle between cancer and bourbon rages within, the speaker cries out for his "Basic Life / Force!"--his joy, my laughter--to defeat death, to "win / Big, win big" in this struggle. But no matter how he calls on his inner resources of youthful strength--"O Self / Like a beloved son!"--the outcome is predetermined. Significantly, during his confrontation with death, he does not seek transformation into another form of life, a snake or a sea bird, but instead calls for the Self to evolve into what it was in youth. The younger Self cannot rescue or aid the older Self, though the speaker strikes a brave, defiant tone.
The realization of the protagonist of "The Cancer Match" that his life is infused by death is shared by the central character in "Victory," the single war poem in The Eye-Beaters. "Victory" is set immediately after V-J Day as the speaker, on his birthday, celebrates the Allied victory over Japan, exulting in the survival of both his nation and himself. As he stacks ammunition crates, the narrator has a V sunburned onto his skin, an emblem of victory but also a harbinger of the dramatic transformation he will undergo. He suddenly feels his navel burn "like an entry-wound," a sensation that causes him to go "South in my mind" into memories of home. He then drinks himself into a whiskey stupor, attains a vision of his combat survival, and hallucinates a snake's head coming out of the bottle and biting him. Though he has lived through the war, he is imprinted with death delivered by the snake, ironically but accurately identified as "the angel / Of peace." To symbolize his recognition that peace, like war, is dominated by death, the protagonist is compelled to go--"I can't help it"--to a Yokohama tattoo parlor where he has a snake design emblazoned on his skin. Coiling from his throat through the V on his chest, the snake tattoo dominates the speaker, and he returns home in the form and color of "the new prince of peace." He finds a renewed life, but this life is marked by the emblem of death. The protagonist, like the speaker in "The Cancer Match," bears sobering intimations of his own mortality.
Dickey's reassessment of the Self in The Eye-Beaters leads to his mid-career review of his beliefs concerning the source and nature of poetry. His long poem The Zodiac is an extended drama focusing on the quarrel between imagination and pure reason, personified respectively by his versions of the poet Henrik Marsman and the ancient philosopher Pythagoras . Dickey asserts that the secrets of the creative process and of the universe itself can best be penetrated by the poet's imagination--incorporating, as it does, instinct, memory, and unbound intellect--rather than by the mathematical, rigidly rational system of the philosopher.
Dickey based The Zodiac on a work of the same title by Dutch poet Henrik Marsman, a poet-sailor who was killed in a 1940 North Atlantic torpedo attack. Marsman personifies the artist--restless, questing, often drunken, often on the verge of madness--who wrestles with the nature of creativity. Though the reader initially suspects that the twelve-part division of the narrative corresponds with the twelve signs of the zodiac, the poet develops no such structural arrangement. Instead, Marsman's thoughts and experiences direct the structure of the poem. His is the primary voice of The Zodiac, though his point of view is fused with that of a second speaker, an omniscient "I" who is engaged with and reacts to Marsman's struggles with the universe, time, and history in Part I of the poem--a section that occupies nearly half of its length. Parts II through VI focus on Marsman's belief that philosophy and mathematics, espoused by Pythagoras , cannot grasp or explain human or divine mysteries. Parts VIII through XI reveal Marsman's turning to his own life--his memories, dreams, fantasies, drunken hallucinations--as the source for both his understanding and his creativity. Part XII examines his final stance growing out of what he has learned through his tortured quest.
Marsman believes that his conception of life embodies what is missing in Pythagoras 's theory of the music of the spheres. According to Marsman, Pythagoras has drawn exclusively upon the tools of human reason--philosophy and mathematics--to define a three-part connection among the stars, moon, and sun that becomes a paradigm for the harmony--the creativity--of the universe. Marsman pays homage to the philosopher's idea but asserts that it does not allow for a key ingredient of creativity--the human imagination--to complete the equation. Marsman thus adopts an expansive, even excessive, approach to life in order to assert the power of the imagination for good or ill. He lives in a single room--"a priest's failed prison-cell"--unmarried and childless and drunken on whiskey, intellect, and madness. Embodying the Platonic concept of "seizure" or inspiration, Marsman as a visionary poet probes his own personal history in an effort to comprehend human history.
In the final section of The Zodiac Marsman resolves to steer his "craft"--his ship and his poetry--through art: "
The tone of Dickey's next collection, The Strength of Fields , contrasts decidedly with that of The Zodiac, partly because the title poem of the 1979 collection was written as a celebration of Jimmy Carter's inauguration, partly because half of the volume is composed of Dickey's "translations"--"Free-flight Improvisations from the UnEnglish"--of other writers, and partly because he seems to have exorcised himself of certain demons through his treatment of Marsman.
Two poems, "The Voyage of the Needle" and "The Strength of Fields," typify the serenity and sense of connectedness that dominate the collection. "The Voyage of the Needle" recalls a trick taught to the speaker by his mother when he was a child: a tissue supporting a needle is placed on top of water; when the tissue becomes saturated and dissolves, the needle floats as if by magic. The adult speaker repeats this "magic" trick as he bathes; the needle points toward his heart; and the recollection of his mother showing him the trick pierces his heart and mind. A device for mending, for joining two parts into a whole, the needle serves as a means of connecting the living speaker with his dead mother: "It is her brimming otherworld / That rides on the needle's frail lake, on death's precarious membrane." The poet's relationship with his mother, previously dramatized as a mixture of guilt and love, is transformed through memory into a mended wholeness conveying "joy and glory." In "The Strength of Fields" a man, presumably the president-elect, is burdened with heavy responsibilities yet approaches these tasks with optimism. As a Southerner, the speaker gains an inner peace from his close kinship to his native soil. As he walks his farmland at night, he appeals to the "Dear Lord of all the fields" for strength to fulfill his duties. He variously entreats the dead beneath the ground, the heavens, and the natural world around him--his "source / Of the power"--for guidance. His appeals are answered as he perceives that he must respond to the pressures of his office with "More kindness," an ideal of Southern conduct. The speaker's perception suggests that he has achieved harmony with his surroundings, himself, and his obligations; this feeling infuses the poem, and The Strength of Fields in general, with a tranquility unusual for Dickey.
His next collection, Puella , is the most complete embodiment of both Dickey's experimentation with lyrical language and his quest for transformation of the Self as an informing principle. In Puella Dickey adopts the identity and voice--"male-imagined"--of Deborah, his second wife, to examine key events in a young woman's coming of age, in her ever-increasing physical and imaginative awareness of her own Selfhood. In this collection the poet employs imagery related to sound and the four ancient elements of life--air, fire, water, and earth--and requires the reader to discover imagistic relationships suggested but not explicitly drawn by Dickey.
Puella is organized around a journey of discovery, a quest for identity. In the initial poem, "Deborah Burning a Doll Made of House Wood," the young protagonist watches her childhood doll being consumed by flame, and she announces, "I am leaving," thereby beginning her journey into womanhood. She rises from the ashes of her childhood to examine her heritage, her personal being, her artistic potential. In "Doorstep, Lightning, Waif-Dreaming" she sits on the front step of strangers and asks if she is their child; but instead of being welcomed into their family, she receives a vision of fire coursing through her body and mind. She thus realizes that she is not a child of ordinary mortals but rather a creature created by inner lightning from her own "root-system of fire." Her internal fire gains artistic expression in other poems of the collection through her individual sound in playing the piano or her startling appearance in the wedding costume of her ancestors. The conclusion of the volume and of the speaker's journey occurs in the final poem, "Summons," which presents a series of surreally conflated images culminating in Deborah's pregnancy. In "Summons" she repeatedly calls "Have someone be nearing," evoking not only her unborn child but also her husband, a three-way union that is nearly complete when she is "With half of my first child / With invention unending." In the course of her journey Deborah becomes an archetypal figure of natural creativity that will be whole and "unending."
Like Puella, The Eagle's Mile , Dickey's final collection, employs the ancient philosophers' elements--earth, water, and air--to convey his speaker's visionary transformations. In this volume these elements become crucial symbols of man's state and of his efforts to transcend that state. Moreover, they affirm the role of the imagination--the most crucial weapon in Dickey's arsenal--in confronting and re-creating the realities that he perceives.
In The Eagle's Mile the earth is invested with contrasting characteristics: the speaker recognizes that he is a living being through his connection with the earth, but he also acknowledges that the earth contains his final prison, the grave. As an isolated, contemplative wanderer, the narrator celebrates his connection with the solidity of earth in "Earth," the first section of "Immortals": "Always as it holds us in one place, the earth / Grows as it moves, exhaling / Its rooted joy.... // I cannot be anything / But alive, in a place as far // From the blank and stark, as this." Yet as he moves across the surface of land, he also longs to transcend its hold on him. He endeavors to be released into the freedom of the air but reluctantly resigns himself to his place on earth, the location of the grave. He perceives, while visiting the grave of a loved one in "Tomb Stone," that "deep enough / In death, the earth becomes / Absolute earth." The living stand breathing in the "rectangular solitude // Risen over" the dead. Furthermore, in "Gila Bend," as the protagonist revisits the aerial gunnery range over which he flew more than forty years earlier as a World War II trainee, he walks the fiercely hot earth as "a cadaver / On foot," almost willing to be branded by the searing sand as penance for those who trained here and died later during battle. On this scorched earth, "no man could get / To his feet, even to rise face-out // Full-force from the grave." The "Absolute earth" of this site is comparable to hell--the hell of war and death in which one is trapped forever.
In contrast to the immobile earth, the sea is constantly in a state of flux. The land-bound speaker in "Expanses" walks upon the beach, watching the "chopped soft road" of the ocean, which creates in him a sense of "Joy." Yet he asserts that one should not "confuse the sea / With any kind of heart: never to mix blood with something // As free as foam." The ocean can either grant man a limited "trouble-free" release from the earth or provide a setting for possibly greater liberation. The speaker in "Moon Flock" notes the desire for man "to grow wings," yearning to "leap // Leap till he's nearly forever // Overhead: overhead floating" in air. But instead of looking up into the night sky at the moon where human flight would occur, one more likely looks "straight // Straight // Straight out over the night sea / As it comes in. Do that. / Do it and think of your death, too, as a white world // Struggling for wings." The sea, particularly the night sea, functions as a darkly fluid locale in which flight from or into the "white world" of death can at least be contemplated.
The most exalted element in The Eagle's Mile is the air, the element in which Dickey experienced and survived combat during World War II, thereby achieving a "saved, shaken life," as he describes it in "A View of Fujiyama After the War," collected in Drowning with Others. In "Air," the second section of "Immortals," the poet asserts that "Air, much greater than the sea-- / More basic, more human than the sea," contains the "high lucidity / Of vigil." At some point the earth will receive man in death, "but the air / You can never keep doesn't know / When it lived in your chest: / Mindless, nerveless, breathless, / The air glitters / All the outside, and keeps carrying // You from within." The literal life-sustaining capability of air has its equivalence in its capacity to grant symbolic freedom to those who are earthbound. For Dickey, air is consistently associated with potential escape, with the possibility of liberation from the earth's--and death's--hold on its creatures.
The large, soaring birds in "Eagles" make "of air a thing that would be liberty / Enough for any world but this one." The speaker acknowledges that he "used to know the circular truth / Of the void" but that he now stands on solid earth aspiring for a spiritual connection with the eagles' flight: "Go up without anything // Of me in your wings, but remember me in your feet // ... / Where you take hold, I will take // That stand in my mind." The speaker's momentary release from his earthly perspective occurs through creatures of the air, as he longs to transcend permanently the "rooted joy" of earth into the cold, stark void above the land. Similarly in "Night Bird," the protagonist exults inwardly as he imagines a large bird's flight through darkness, rising and falling above the earth. Though blinded by darkness, the speaker shares the eagle's transcendent moment as it flies: "You are sure that like a curving grave / It must be able to fall, // and rise // ... and suddenly there is no limit // To what a man can get out of / His failure to see: // this gleam // Of air." The perception of the bird's rising and falling in the night air with its equation to man's rising and falling as he confronts the grave depends upon the imagination rather than upon actual, everyday vision. In this regard, Dickey's speaker in The Eagle's Mile, like Marsman, makes use of the creative artistic imagination to transcend man's ordinary existence on "Absolute earth." As Dickey advises the dead and living dead in "Sleepers": "Sound off. / Not knowing where your tombs / Already lie, assemble, sail through // The lifted spaces, unburied."
Throughout his career Dickey pursued new forms, new voices in order to keep his vision engaging to himself and to his readers. He evolved in his poetry from an early emphasis on narrative to a mid-career experimentation with lyric language. In his last collection Dickey retracted slightly from the pure lyricism of Puella to create a more accessible poetry. A similar process occurs within the author's three novels. The highly dramatic Deliverance became a critical and popular success in part because of its narrative accessibility. Alnilam, on the other hand, is quite static, finding its power not in narrative drive but in lyrical set pieces that depend in part on structural experiments involving the printed page. To the White Sea parallels Dickey's most recent poetry in the sense that the novel has a renewed narrative impulse combined with highly lyrical language. Throughout his career as poet and novelist, Dickey drove himself to fulfill Ezra Pound 's dictum to "Make it new." Because his works are not only "new" but also compelling and engaging, James Dickey will be remembered as one of the most important literary voices in America.
The Special Collections Department of the Emory University Libraries in Atlanta, Georgia, holds manuscripts, letters, and substantial amounts of other Dickey materials. Washington University Libraries in St. Louis, Missouri, and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., also hold manuscripts.
FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR
- The Voiced Connections of James Dickey: Interviews and Conversations, edited by Ronald Baughman (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989).
- Jim Elledge, James Dickey: A Bibliography: 1947-1974 (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1979).
- Elledge, "James Dickey: A Supplementary Bibliography, 1975-1980: Part I," Bulletin of Bibliography, 38 (April-June 1981): 92-100, 104.
- Elledge, "James Dickey: A Supplementary Bibliography, 1975-1980: Part II," Bulletin of Bibliography, 38 (July-September 1981): 150-155.
- "Continuing Bibliography," James Dickey Newsletter (Fall 1984- ).
- Ronald Baughman, "James Dickey," in Contemporary Authors Bibliographical Series, Volume 2: American Poets, edited by Baughman (Detroit: Bruccoli Clark/Gale Research, 1986), pp. 71-105.
- Matthew J. Bruccoli and Judith S. Baughman, James Dickey: A Descriptive Bibliography (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1990).
- George L. Alexander, "A Psychoanalytic Observation on the Scopophilic Imagery in James Dickey's Deliverance," James Dickey Newsletter, 11 (Fall 1994): 2-11.
- Lee Bartlett and Hugh Witemeyer, "Ezra Pound and James Dickey: A Correspondence and a Kinship," Paideuma, 2 (Fall 1982): 290-312.
- Ronald Baughman, "James Dickey's Alnilam: Toward a True Center Point," South Carolina Review, 26 (Spring 1994): 173-179.
- Baughman, Understanding James Dickey (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1985).
- Ross Bennett, "The Firebombing: A Reappraisal," American Literature, 52 (November 1980): 430-448.
- David C. Berry Jr., "Harmony with the Dead: James Dickey's Descent into the Underworld," Southern Quarterly, 12 (April 1974): 233-244.
- Harold Bloom, ed., James Dickey: Modern Critical Views (New York: Chelsea House, 1987).
- Robert (Crunk) Bly, "The Collapse of James Dickey," Sixties, 9 (Spring 1967): 70-79.
- Neal Bowers, James Dickey: The Poet as Pitchman (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1985).
- Richard J. Calhoun, ed., James Dickey: The Expansive Imagination: A Collection of Critical Essays (De Land, Fla.: Everett/Edwards, 1973).
- Calhoun and Robert W. Hill, James Dickey (Boston: Twayne, 1983).
- Peter Davison, "The Difficulties of Being Major: The Poetry of Robert Lowell and James Dickey," Atlantic Monthly, 220 (October 1967): 116-121.
- Donald J. Greiner, "The Harmony of Bestiality in James Dickey's Deliverance," South Carolina Review, 5 (December 1972): 43-49.
- Greiner, "The Iron of English: An Interview with James Dickey," South Carolina Review, 26 (Spring 1994): 9-20.
- Daniel L. Guillory, "Water Magic in the Poetry of James Dickey," English Language Notes, 8 (December 1970): 131-137.
- Paul G. Italia, "Love and Lust in James Dickey's Deliverance," Modern Fiction Studies, 21 (Summer 1975): 203-213.
- Robert Kirschten, James Dickey and the Gentle Ecstasy of Earth: A Reading of the Poems (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988).
- Kirschten, "Struggling for Wings": The Art of James Dickey (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997).
- Kirschten, ed., Critical Essays on James Dickey (New York: G. K. Hall, 1994).
- Richard Kostelanetz, "Flyswatter and Gadfly," Shenandoah, 16 (Spring 1965): 92-95.
- Patricia Laurence, "James Dickey's Puella in Flight," South Carolina Review, 26 (Spring 1994): 61-71.
- Anthony Libby, "Fire and Light: Four Poets to the End and Beyond," Iowa Review, 4 (Spring 1973): 111-126.
- Laurence Lieberman, The Achievement of James Dickey: A Comprehensive Selection of His Poems With a Critical Introduction (Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, 1968).
- Lieberman, "Erotic Pantheism in James Dickey's Madness," South Carolina Review, 26 (Spring 1994): 72-86.
- Michael Mesic, "A Note on James Dickey," in American Poetry Since 1960, edited by Robert B. Shaw (Chester Springs, Pa.: Dufour, 1974), pp. 145-153.
- N. Michael Niflis, "A Special Kind of Fantasy: James Dickey on the Razor's Edge," Southwest Review, 57 (Autumn 1972): 311-317.
- Joyce Carol Oates, "Out of Stone, Into Flesh: The Imagination of James Dickey," Modern Poetry Studies, 5 (Autumn 1974): 97-144.
- Paul O'Neill, "The Unlikeliest Poet," Life, 61 (22 July 1966): 68-70.
- Joyce M. Pair, "The Peace of the Pure Predator: Dickey's Energized Man in To the White Sea," James Dickey Newsletter, 10 (Spring 1994): 15-27.
- Louis D. Rubin Jr., "Understanding The Buckhead Boys," South Carolina Review, 26 (Spring 1994): 196-197.
- Dave Smith, "James Dickey's Motions," South Carolina Review, 26 (Spring 1994): 41-60.
- Smith, "The Strength of James Dickey," Poetry, 137 (March 1981): 349-358.
- William C. Strange, "To Dream, To Remember: James Dickey's Buckdancer's Choice," Northwest Review, 7 (Fall/Winter 1965/1966): 33-42.
- Ernest Suarez, James Dickey and the Politics of Canon: Assessing the Savage Ideal (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1993).
- Suarez, "Roll God, Roll: Muldrow's Primitive Creed," James Dickey Newsletter, 10 (Spring 1994): 3-14.
- Henry Taylor, "Going for Broke: A Strategy in James Dickey's Poetry," South Carolina Review, 26 (Spring 1994): 27-39.
- Texas Review, Special Issue: The Fiction of James Dickey, 17 (Fall/Winter 1996/1997).
- Arthur Gordon Van Ness, Outbelieving Existence: The Measured Motion of James Dickey (Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1992).
- H. L. Weatherby, "The Way of Exchange in James Dickey's Poetry," Sewanee Review, 74 (July-September 1966): 669-680.
- Bruce Weigl and T. R. Hummer, eds., The Imagination as Glory: The Poetry of James Dickey (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984).