Crux: The Letters of James Dickey

Overview

James Dickey was a great poet, a legend of the reading circuit, and - after the best-selling Deliverance and its celebrated movie version - a celebrity. This collection, reaching from 1943 to his death in 1997, and from a fledgling poet to an ailing man of letters, constitutes a short course in literature and poetry since World War II.. "Dickey's correspondents include John Berryman, Harold Bloom, Philip Booth, Richard Howard, Denise Levertov, Robert Lowell, Donald Hall, James Merrill, Ezra Pound, Anne Sexton, ...
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Overview

James Dickey was a great poet, a legend of the reading circuit, and - after the best-selling Deliverance and its celebrated movie version - a celebrity. This collection, reaching from 1943 to his death in 1997, and from a fledgling poet to an ailing man of letters, constitutes a short course in literature and poetry since World War II.. "Dickey's correspondents include John Berryman, Harold Bloom, Philip Booth, Richard Howard, Denise Levertov, Robert Lowell, Donald Hall, James Merrill, Ezra Pound, Anne Sexton, Mark Strand, Robert Penn Warren, Richard Wilbur, and James Wright.. "Entertaining and erudite, these letters reveal the fierce, complicated literary intellect of the man John Updike called "the high-flyer of American poets.".
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Dickey's indefatigable editor and friend, and senior compiler of his letters, Bruccoli "disapproved of his conduct and celebrated his genius." Whatever that conduct was, it rarely emerges from these letters. Dickey (1923-1997) "deliberately promoted and exaggerated his several reputations--genius, drinker, woodsman, athlete--until the legends took over after [the novel] Deliverance." Not a biography in letters, Crux is, after the early family letters, some later ones to a son and to (or about) his second wife, a selected professional correspondence. When Dickey's first wife dies, in October 1976, and he remarries two months later, we are greeted by a gap from August 1976 to August 1977. What we do have, however, are pages of literary politics, self-seeking, currying favor and attacking writers unworthy of his good words. Nabokov is "tiresome and disgusting... with a built-in intellectual smirk." Frost is "that super-jerk." If all poetry, he says, were like that of Wallace Stevens, "I would have no interest in the subject." Anne Sexton is derided for "continual pushiness." John Hollander is "a literary pimp and time-server." Robert Lowell, whom Dickey will butter up later, is "just another example of the brilliant, pampered American poet who spends the rest of his life, after the initial success, trying to progress and keeps falling down and down." Despite some praise of contemporaries and some steadfast loyalties, Dickey is largely a sour novice. Pathos enters when his second wife becomes "all but comatose with cocaine and heroin," and he struggles to write amid "a maelstrom of misfortunes." The letters end abruptly with a friend's funeral and Dickey's warmth of feeling toward him, but the personality evoked by the letters is generally unlovely. 20 b&w photographs not seen by PW. (Nov.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The late Dickey's drunken public antics, his braggadocio about his athletic prowess, and his violence-filled second marriage are the stuff of legend by now. Yet Dickey's letters reveal a man consumed by his passion for language and life. Editors Bruccoli and Baughman (coeditors of the letters of Nabokov and Fitzgerald) here collect about 20 percent of the late poet's known correspondence. The collection traces Dickey's career from his undergraduate years at Vanderbilt to his final days in Litchfield Beach, SC, where he wrote every day ensconced in a castle of books. In letters to correspondents like Ezra Pound, Robert Penn Warren, Anne Sexton, James Wright, and others, Dickey doggedly and keenly discusses the role of the poet in the modern world, the nature of modern poetry, and the function of literary criticism. Dickey's letters give us a glimpse into his mind and writing that no biography will ever be able to do. These letters are part of a steadily rising flood of material about Dickey, and large public libraries and academic libraries will certainly want to own them.--Henry L. Carrigan, formerly with Westerville P.L., OH Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Indefatigable literary estate agent Bruccoli (English/Univ. South Carolina, editor of the letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald, John O'Hara, and Vladimir Nabokov) amasses the documentary chronicle of Dickey's metamorphosis from "scarcely educated jock" to award-winning poet.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375404191
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/26/1999
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 608
  • Product dimensions: 6.64 (w) x 9.56 (h) x 1.47 (d)

Meet the Author

Matthew J. Bruccoli, Dickey's friend and colleague for nearly thirty years, is the Jefferies Professor of English at the University of South Carolina. He and Judith S. Baughman have jointly edited the letters of Vladimir Nabokov and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
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Read an Excerpt

to: eugene dickey

Postmarked 8 June 1943

A/S Jim Dickey

Flight "E"

326th C.F.D.

High Point Col.

H.P., N.C.


Dear Pop,

I've just gotten back from my first flight, and it was fine. I learned how to do all the elementary maneuvers, and also tried a loop, which didn't turn out so hot. My instructor is a fellow named Whitley, who is not too educated, but knows his airplanes thoroughly. You ought to see me up there, with those earphones clamped over my head and my parachute on. I feel almost ready to go after a Zero. My instructor said I was doing fine.

Since you seem to be interested in my writing I am inclosing a description of a day's football practice at Clemson. While writing this I kept in mind not a single day's performance but a composite of all the days when we scrimmaged the varsity. I used as my model Remarque's "All Quiet on the Western Front" to lend reality to the picture. I tried to make the reader experience what I did. In this I did not entirely succeed, being considerably disheartened at the complete piece, for it did not convey the impression I intended to give. However I got a fairly good grade. Since then I have written several other short selections, which I will send to you from time to time.

Congratulate Tom for me, and tell him he owes me a letter. He hasn't written me in 2H months.

        All my love,

        Jim

p.s. I am drawing flight pay now -- $75 a month. I don't get paid again until I hit Nashville.

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