Tag Archives: James Dickey

James Dickey

I usually start talking about James Dickey‘s poems by saying, “The one where…” The ideas behind the poem, the context and ‘what happens’ — the vision, in other words — is what sticks with me so much more than individual lines.

The one where the stewardess is falling to earth (“Falling“); the one where he puts on the taxidermied head of a boar and becomes the boar as it’s being hunted, years ago, by his now-dead father (“Approaching Prayer”); the one where the hobo is nailed to a train car by his hands and feet (“To a Folk-Singer of the Thirties“); the one where the speaker is in the pantry thinking about dropping bombs on his suburban neighborhood from the plane he flew during the war (“The Firebombing“); the one about animals being predators in Heaven (“The Heaven of Animals“); the one about the half-sheep, fathered by a farm boy, who dies right after birth (“The Sheep Child“); the one where the soldier drinks water from a dead soldier’s helmet and sees his memories (“Drinking From a Helmet”); the one with the surreal colors in the grass and the horses, (“The Dusk of Horses“); the one about the shark trashing the house (“The Shark’s Parlor“).

Intensity and life are the two themes I’d call out if I was asked to call out two themes in his poems. Or maybe it should be intensity and life-and-death. Continue reading

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Poor sons-a-bitching ducks

I’m pretty sure I’d never heard of John Logan before this morning, but I am now enamored. Of the poem “Three Moves,” at least, since that’s the only one of his I’ve yet read.

The rhymes! and the near-rhymes, how they spill down the page! “Remain, “friends” and “again” in the first four lines, the long single syllables of “call” and “soul.” And “grounds” and “brown” later, and then couplets here and there, “boats” and “floats,” and “night” and “all right.” But also in between there’s “damp” and “Frank” and “dares.” “Swill” and “spill” and “beautiful.” Say them out loud, they move the mouth wonderfully.

For instance, in the top half of the poem,

I have a friend named Frank—
the only one who ever dares to call
and ask me, “How’s your soul?”
I hadn’t thought about it for a while,
and was ashamed to say I didn’t know.
I have no priest for now.
Who
will forgive me then. Will you?
Tame birds and my neighbors’ boats.
The ducks honk about the floats…

Frank who asks you to be frank. (And isn’t it interesting Continue reading

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Farm Animals

It’s set to be a gorgeous, blue-sky 50′ February weekend in Portland. Let’s take a field trip to a farm to see the animals.

We’ll drive down the road and see on either side “those dear old ladies, / the loosening barns,” barns hiding deer and tractors.

When we get to the farm, we’ll visit the sow Blackula, lying in her pen “in the mud to consider herself.” (She is being closely watched from a fence post by the “excellent clamberer,” the cat Jeoffrey).

Off to the left, there’s a field of sheep. There are both black-faced sheep “not shrewd like the pig,” and gray sheep  Continue reading

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Quoting

Writers love to quote other writers about writing, particularly about the whys and hows of it — it’s kind of a thing. Joy Williams, at a symposium at Connecticut College with Tobias Wolff and Galway Kinnell years ago, even had a whole Rolodex with her, an actual Rolodex she brought with her to the podium so she could correctly quote other people when answering questions after the reading.

I’m no different of course. Some favorites:

I could no more define poetry than a terrier can define a rat.

A.E. Housman

It’s silly to suggest the writing of poetry as something ethereal, a sort of soul-crashing emotional experience that wrings you. I have no fancy ideas about poetry. It doesn’t come to you on the wings of a dove. It’s something you work hard at.

Louise Bogan

A poem is about something the way a cat is about a house.

Allen Grossman (I’ve seen it as “art is about” too.) Continue reading

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Miss Moore, Briefly

I like Marianne Moore. I do acknowledge that Moore can be hard. And that not every single one of her poems is great.

James Dickey (though he later said he had changed his mind a little about how much he thought of her work) wrote of Moore that

Few poets […] have shown how endlessly various, how ingenious and idiosyncratic and inexplicably fascinating, how sheerly interesting the world is in its multifarious aspects […]

He also says

In her “burning desire to be explicit,” Miss Moore tells us that facts make her feel “profoundly grateful.” This is because knowledge, for her, is not power but love, and in loving it is important to know what you love, as widely and as deeply and as well as possible.

Like I said, I know what Moore’s limitations are, Continue reading

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