to write poetry, eventually relocating to Atlanta. Upon being a awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for 1961-62, Dickey abandoned advertising and traveled to Positano, Italy, where he wrote Drowning with Others (1962), his first full-length volume of poetry. Upon his return to the United States, he served as poet-in-resi-dence at several colleges and published two more volumes of poetry. The second of these, Buckdancer's Choice (1966), won the National Book Award, the Melville Cane Award from the Poetry Society of America, and a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award. Dickey served as consultant in poetry for the Library of Congress from 1966-68. From 1968 until his death, he taught at the University of South Carolina. In 1977 he wrote and read "The Strength of Fields" for Jimmy Carter's inaugural celebration, and in 1988 he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. During his career he published three novels, including the extremely successful Deliverance (1970), several books of criticism, and two children's books, in addition to his many volumes of poetry, the last of which, The Eagle's Mile, was published in 1990.
Dickey was dubbed "the unlikeliest of poets" by Life magazine in 1966—a characterization he reinforced through his frequent and electrifying readings (O'Neill 68). He called his tireless attempts to bring poetry to the people—through readings, interviews, teaching, his role as consultant to the Library of Congress, and casual encounters—"barnstorming for poetry" ("Lecture"), and his ideal of the poet was a man of action— both master and student of the natural world—the "energized man" ("The Energized Man" 163). Dickey described the energized man as "the man with vivid senses, the man alert to the nuances and meanings of his own experience, the man able to appreciate and evaluate the relation between words in the right order" ("The Energized Man" 163-164). Although Dickey emphatically stated that he was not this man, he is evoked in Dickey's poetry.
In "Sleeping Out at Easter" (1960), the speaker is transformed into the energized man through his contact with nature as he camps out in his backyard with his child. He is able to see beyond the dark night, his human fear and alienation, and to tap into a larger understanding of the universe: "One eye opens slowly without me. / My sight is the same as the sun's." Through his heightened awareness to his surroundings, the speaker enters a visionary state wherein the physical world reveals the metaphysical. In this state, he grasps "The source of all song at the root." In this poem and in much of Dickey's work, the speaker is actively engaged with the world around him and is frequently in conflict—with nature, family history, military enemies, lovers, his own body—but he is also marvelously attuned, literally transforming himself into the objects, events, animals, and people he observes and envisions. While his work often deals with dark subjects—bestiality, death, rape, adultery, voyeurism, execution, firebombing—it always affirms the life force and the power of the imagination to transform existence. One of his best-known poems, "Falling" (1981), is based on the death of a flight attendant who was sucked from a plane. Dickey transforms this bizarre and tragic event into a mythical visitation, with the flight attendant—from whose point of view the poem is imagined—reimagined as a fertility goddess blessing the earth with her death: As the farmers walk toward her broken body, they move "Toward the flowering of the harvest in their hands."
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