Remembering Deliverance

It's clear James Dick­ey mythol­o­gized and often out­right lied about the cir­cum­stances of his life now, and what's been lost along with his crit­i­cal rep­u­ta­tion is the work, the work, my god the work. Six years of for­mal edu­ca­tion and I was nev­er assigned a Dick­ey poem, which is a tragedy. A great poet (no reser­va­tions), Dick­ey as nov­el­ist, at least as regards Deliv­er­ance, unfor­tu­nate­ly suf­fers from  the same excess as Dick­ey the racon­teur: myth­ic  poten­tial, slim rela­tion to truth or real­i­ty. But that's part­ly miss­ing the point, too. Peo­ple who dis­count the nov­el or con­flate it with the real­ly over-the-top film (squeal like a pig boy, yes yes) are miss­ing out on one of the most inter­est­ing and mem­o­rable books of the last forty or so years. See what Dwight Gar­ner has to say in the NY Times today on the 40th anniver­sary of Deliv­er­ance.

On the page and off, James Dick­ey (1923−1997) was a max­i­mal­ist. His roomy, loqua­cious poems spill down the page in a water­fall style and in a voice he called “coun­try sur­re­al­ism.” It makes sense that he called some of these poems “walls of words,” sim­i­lar to the record pro­duc­er Phil Spec­tor’s echo­ing “wall of sound.” Dickey’s music, rougher and weird­er than Mr. Spector’s, was sim­i­lar­ly packed with reverb.

It’s odd, then, that Dick­ey is prob­a­bly best remem­bered for a spare nov­el, one from which he stripped most of the poet­ry, pulling out the fin­er phras­ings like weeds. That nov­el was his first, “Deliv­er­ance” (1970), a book that turns a youth­ful 40 this year. It’s a nov­el that I was hap­py to dis­cov­er upon reread­ing it by a deep lake this sum­mer — Dickey’s stuff is always best read beside a vague­ly sin­is­ter body of water — has lost lit­tle of its sleek­ness or pow­er. The book’s anniver­sary shouldn’t slip by unno­ticed. More.

You can find Dick­ey poems all over the inter­nets, includ­ing those much-anthol­o­gized and lit­tle-read pieces Cher­ry­log Road and The Sheep Child, but take some time and search some oth­er poems out, like maybe Falling, or this one, with the fire in its last lines near­ly embar­rass­ing in its sen­ti­ment, near­ly being the key word.

Adul­tery

We have all been in rooms
We can­not die in, and they are odd places, and sad.
Often Indi­ans are stand­ing eagle-armed on hills

In the sun­rise open wide to the Great Spir­it
Or glid­ing in canoes or cat­tle are brows­ing on the walls
Far away gaz­ing down with the eyes of our chil­dren

Not far away or there are men dri­ving
The last rail­spike, which has turned
Gold in their hands. Gigan­tic fore­plea­sure lives

Among such scenes, and we are alone with it
At last. There is always some weep­ing
Between us and some­one is always check­ing

A wrist watch by the bed to see how much
Longer we have left. Noth­ing can come
Of this noth­ing can come

Of us: of me with my grim tech­niques
Or you who have sealed your womb
With a ring of con­vul­sive rub­ber:

Although we come togeth­er,
Noth­ing will come of us. But we would not give
It up, for death is beat­en

By pray­ing Indi­ans by dis­tant cows his­tor­i­cal
Ham­mers by haz­ardous meet­ings that bridge
A con­ti­nent. One could nev­er die here

Nev­er die nev­er die
While cry­ing. My lover, my dear one
I will see you next week

When I'm in town. I will call you
If I can. Please get hold of Please don't
Oh God, Please don't any more I can't bear… Lis­ten:

We have done it again we are
Still liv­ing. Sit up and smile,
God bless you. Guilt is mag­i­cal.

How about that??

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