In The One Voice of James Dickey, Gordon Van Ness skillfully documents James Dickey’s growth from a callow teen interested primarily in sports to a mature poet who possessed literary genius and who deliberately advanced himself and his career. The letters from 1942 through 1969 depict Dickey gradually establishing a self-identity, deciding to write, struggling to determine a subject matter and style, working determinedly to gain initial recognition, and eventually seeking out the literary establishment to promote himself and his views on poetry. The letters also portray a complex personality with broad interests, acute intelligence, and heightened imagination as well as a deep need to re-create his past and assume various roles in the present.
From Dickey’s extensive correspondence, Van Ness has selected not only those letters that best reveal the chronological development of Dickey’s career and his conscious efforts to chart its course, but also those that portray his other interests and depict the various features of his personality. The letters are grouped by decade, with each period placed in perspective by a critical introduction. The introductory sections offer a psychological understanding of Dickey’s personality by identifying the needs and fears that affected his actions. They also explain the American literary and cultural scene that Dickey confronted as he matured. Together, the letters and commentary yield a sense of Dickey’s complex personality—both the man as a writer and the writer as a man—while arguing that he remained “one voice.”
Because how a writer writes—the appearance of a writer’s words on a page—makes a statement, the letters are reproduced here without alterations. There are no silent deletions or revisions; the original spelling and punctuation have been preserved. Dickey’s letters gathered in The One Voice of James Dickey portray a poet’s consciousness, chronicling its growth and revealing its breadth. They do not contain the whole truth, but they are what we have.
This book completes and complements the first volume of the letters and life of James Dickey. Picking up where the previous volume left off, The One Voice of James Dickey: His Letters and Life, 1970–1997 chronicles Dickey’s career from the unparalleled success of his novel Deliverance in 1970 through his poetic experimentation in such books as The Eye Beaters, Blood, Victory, Madness, Buckhead and Mercy and Puella until his death in 1997. A prolific correspondent, Dickey tried to write at least three letters a day, and these letters provide a unique way for Gordon Van Ness to portray the vast and varied panorama of Dickey’s life.
The letters are grouped by decade largely because Dickey’s life was so very different in the seventies, eighties, and nineties. The chapter titles and their progression, as in the first volume, reflect Dickey’s sense that his life and career were a kind of warfare and that he was on a mission. A final section, “Debriefings,” offers a concise overview of Dickey’s full career. In earlier chapters, letters to people as varied as Saul Bellow, Arthur Schlesinger, and Robert Penn Warren indicate Dickey’s belief that this correspondence was a valuable networking tool, likely to open up new opportunities, while other letters, such as ones to Dickey’s oldest son, Christopher, expose the tender aspects of the author’s character.
No other critical study so well projects the development of Dickey’s career while simultaneously exhibiting the diversity of his interests and the often-conflicting sides of his personality. In the strictest sense, this volume is not a life-in-letters, but it does provide a general sense of Dickey’s comings, goings, and doings. Van Ness’s selection of letters suggests an acute understanding of Dickey, and his editorial commentary examines and reveals Dickey’s brilliance.
Striking In provides the first detailed look at the artistic beginnings of one of America's most accomplished writers. Chronicling James Dickey's close scrutiny of a wide variety of literary, philosophical, and anthropological works, his extensive experimentation with the possibilities of language, and his projected outlines for poems, stories, and novels, the notebooks serve as a critical tool in understanding Dickey's literary apprenticeship during the fifties.
Although the notebooks identify the influence of writers such as George Barker, Hart Crane, and Dylan Thomas, they primarily present a man endeavoring to chart his own artistic course or destination. The entries depict the process by which Dickey developed the ideas and images that characterize what he himself has labeled his "early motion," revealing the origin of Into the Stone, Drowning with Others, and Helmets, his first three published books of poetry, and suggesting the material and techniques of later volumes.
The introductions by Gordon Van Ness place each notebook in a biographical context and assess its individual significance, and an appendix lists all of Dickey's poems published in the fifties. Extensive footnotes provide further information on many of the specific references within Dickey's entries. Of special importance is the inclusion of ten never-before-published poems as well as fourteen others never collected in Dickey's books.
These notebooks show a young man obsessively committed to improving his creative and critical practice. By providing a direct glimpse into Dickey's mind before he achieved notoriety, Striking In sheds important new light on Dickey's struggle to discover a style and subject matter uniquely his own and will be essential reading for anyone interested in the complexities of Dickey's literary career.