Tuesday, January 16, 2007

James Dickey and Music

James Dickey circa 1985, about when I took his poetry classes at the University of South Carolina

James Dickey Playing Guitar at Home, 1993
Photo by Gene Crediford

Friday and Saturday this week, the University of South Carolina hosts the James Dickey Conference, which comes on the 10th anniversary of his death. The James Dickey Newsletter and Society provides a schedule of events. My presentation Saturday afternoon concern's Dickey's own interest in music, specifically guitar playing, and its manifestation in the poetry--especially in Buckdancer's Choice, his fourth volume, which won the 1966 National Book Award.

Dickey was never better than in that collection, though some of his subsequent poems, such as "Falling" and "The Eye-Beaters" are among his best. Most critics agree that the poems of his last two decades do not measure up to the stunning, innovative early work. There's an argument to be made that his interests turned more to fiction as he attempted to follow up the blockbuster success of Deliverance with the less successful Alnilam and To the White Sea.

Two biographies of Dickey published since his death haven't helped his reputation: his son Christopher's bittersweet memoir, Summer of Deliverance, and Henry Hart's massive James Dickey: The World as a Lie. The bulk of his huge library is now housed in The James Dickey Library and Seminar Room in the Thomas Cooper Library at USC.

Favorable New York Times Review of Buckdancer's Choice in 1966 by Joseph Bennett
All reviews and articles on Dickey published by the New York Times

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