Biography of James Dickey
James Lafayette Dickey was an American poet and novelist. He was appointed the eighteenth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1966.
James Dickey was born to lawyer Eugene Dickey and Maibelle Swift in Atlanta, Georgia where he attended North Fulton High School in Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood. In 1942 he enrolled at Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina and played on the football team as a tailback. After one semester, he left school to enlist in the Army Air Corps. Dickey served with the U.S. Army Air Forces as a radar operator in a night fighter squadron during the Second World War, and in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. Between the wars he attended Vanderbilt University, graduating with degrees in English and philosophy, as well as minoring in astronomy. He also taught at the University of Florida.
From 1950 to 1954, Dickey taught at Rice University (then Rice Institute) in Houston. While teaching freshman composition at Rice, Dickey returned for a two-year air force stint in Korea, and went back to teaching. (Norton Anthology, The Literature of the American South, 809) He then worked for several years in advertising, most notably writing copy and helping direct creative work on the Coca-Cola and Lay's Potato Chips campaign. He once said he embarked on his advertising career in order to "make some bucks." Dickey also said "I was selling my soul to the devil all day...and trying to buy it back at night".
He returned to poetry in 1960, and his first book, "Into the Stone and Other Poems", was published in 1960 and "Drowning with Others" was published in 1962, which led to a Guggenheim fellowship (Norton Anthology, The Literature of the American South) Buckdancer's Choice earned him a National Book Award in 1965. Among his better known poems are "The Performance", "Cherrylog Road", "The Firebombing", "May Day Sermon", "Falling", and "For The Last Wolverine".
After being named a poetry consultant for the Library of Congress, he published his first volume of collected poems, "Poems 1957-1967" in 1967. This publishing may represent Dickey's best work—and he accepted a position of Professor of English and writer-in-residence at the University of South Carolina at Columbia.
His popularity exploded after the film version of his novel Deliverance was released in 1972. Dickey had a cameo in the film as a sheriff.
The poet was invited to read his poem "The Strength of Fields" at President Jimmy Carter's inauguration in 1977.
In November 1948 he married Maxine Syerson, and three years later they had their first son, Christopher; a second son, Kevin, was born in 1958. Two months after Maxine died in 1976, Dickey married Deborah Dodson. Their daughter, Bronwen, was born in 1981. Christopher is a novelist and journalist, lately providing coverage from the Middle East for Newsweek. In 1998, Christopher wrote a book about his father and Christopher's own sometimes troubled relationship with him, titled Summer of Deliverance. Kevin is a radiologist and lives in New England. Bronwen is currently a writer in New York City.
James Dickey died on January 19, 1997, six days after his last class at the University of South Carolina, where from 1968 he taught as poet-in-residence. Dickey spent his last years in and out of hospitals, afflicted first with jaundice and later fibrosis of the lungs. He also suffered from alcoholism.
James Dickey's Works:
Into the Stone and Other Poems (1960)
Drowning with Others (1962)
Two Poems of the Air (1964)
Buckdancer's Choice (1965)
Poems 1957-67 (1967)
The Achievement of James Dickey: A Comprehensive Selection of His Poems (1968)
The Eye-Beaters, Blood, Victory, Madness, Buckhead and Mercy (1970)
The Zodiac (1976)
Veteran Birth: The Gadfly Poems 1947-49 (1978)
Head-Deep in Strange Sounds: Free-Flight Improvisations from the unEnglish (1979)
The Strength of Fields (1979)
Falling, May Day Sermon, and Other Poems (1981)
The Early Motion (1981)
False Youth: Four Seasons (1983)
For a Time and Place (1983)
The Central Motion: Poems 1968-79 (1983)
Bronwen, The Traw, and the Shape-Shifter: A Poem in Four Parts (1986)
The Eagle's Mile (1990)
The Whole Motion: Collected Poems 1949-92 (1992)
Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like the Bee
To The White Sea (1993)
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James Dickey Poems
The Heaven Of Animals
Here they are. The soft eyes open. If they have lived in a wood It is a wood. If they have lived on plains
Farm boys wild to couple With anything with soft-wooded trees With mounds of earth mounds Of pine straw will keep themselves off
The Hospital Window
I have just come down from my father. Higher and higher he lies Above me in a blue light Shed by a tinted window.
For The Last Wolverine
They will soon be down To one, but he still will be For a little while still will be stopping
The last time I saw Donald Armstrong He was staggering oddly off into the sun, Going down, off the Philippine Islands.
Pursuit From Under
Often, in these blue meadows, I hear what passes for the bark of seals
Off Highway 106 At Cherrylog Road I entered The ’34 Ford without wheels, Smothered in kudzu,
Hunting Civil War Relics At Nimblewill C...
As he moves the mine detector A few inches over the ground, Making it vitally float Among the ferns and weeds,
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 a stable of boats I lie still, From all sleeping children hidden. The leap of a fish from its shadow Makes the whole lake instantly tremble.
The states when they black out and lie there rolling when they turn To something transcontinental move by drawing moonlight out of the great
The Dusk Of Horses
Right under their noses, the green Of the field is paling away Because of something fallen from the sky. They see this, and put down
So I would hear out those lungs, The air split into nine levels, Some gift of tongues of the whistler
The Shark's Parlor
Memory: I can take my head and strike it on a wall on Cumberland Island Where the night tide came crawling under the stairs came up the first
So I would hear out those lungs,
The air split into nine levels,
Some gift of tongues of the whistler
In the invalid’s bed: my mother,
Warbling all day to herself
The thousand variations of one song;