The Drowning Man Dreams of Different Deaths

Toppling from a tightrope
stretched between your bare knees

Last fallen man in a dance contest

Jumping from a plane wearing a
backpack instead of a parachute

dying, as they say, of laughter

Stomach so stuffed with sweets
the witch can barely cram you
into her glowing oven

Of thirst, mouth too dry to form words

So quickly from the impact
you still can’t believe it

In your sleep
stiffening into
something of an embrace

James Dickey

James Dickey: An Appreciation


A few early poems:

James Dickey (1923-1997) was, to my mind, simultaneously one of the most well known and one of the least appreciated authors in America. Most people are aware of Dickey’s work even if they themselves don’t know that they are: his novel Deliverance won the prestigious French Prix Medicis and was later made into an Academy award-winning film in the early seventies that almost everyone has seen (or heard thanks to its famous “Dueling Banjo” soundtrack).

But Dickey’s first love—and he explicitly made this point many times—was poetry. And strangely, despite being more popularly known for his fiction, it was in his poetry that Dickey was truly something of a revolutionary. Sometimes it is the case that a pervasive influence on poetry is known most fully only to other poets, particularly if the poet is one who, like Dickey, is primarily known for a single piece of fiction. I heartily recommend his fiction to anyone, but I strongly suggest that anyone who hopes to write poetry today be familiar with Dickey’s work.

The Sins of The Father

In Exodus1, we are told that God will:

…visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.2

I don’t believe in a God who can take what strikes me as a monstrous action, but I’ve nonetheless believed the essential dynamic to be true for a long time. In fact, I can pinpoint the moment of my dark epiphany to September 1986.

Commonplace notebook (a red Rhodia? notebook)

Books, Collecting, organizing (MAS 1)

From Episode 379:

All you book collectors out there. Do you have the same problem or are you really organized about it? And should I take time during the sabbatical to organize it? Or not really?

Over the years I’ve been a book accumulator, hoarder, and collector. And I’ve been an organizer, piler, filer, and database-wielding reprobate capturing every detail of every one of the, at the time 1000s!, of books I owned. I’ve arranged books by author, title, year, size, and even color…sometimes with subgroups (poetry! crosswords! mysteries! books about books! books about words! books about books about words!). You get the idea.

And here’s what all of that has left me doing: tossing them all onto shelves in vague clusters by topic and sometimes even vaguer projects.

The work of hyper-organization isn’t particularly rewarding in process or results. But there is great pleasure in seeking and finding—and in its own way, not finding—a book. Going down rabbit holes when a title or cover grabs me, wandering the paths of memory with a book I’ve loved, thinking of tussles with books I didn’t, getting lost in yearning for a book that didn’t love me to change its mind. That’s the good stuff.

Note: MAS is a series in which yr humble servant answers questions—
explicit, implicit, and imagined—from his favorite podcast, Robyn O’Neil’s Me Reading Stuff.

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