THE EYE-BEATERS, BLOOD, VICTORY, MADNESS, BUCKHEAD AND MERCY
It is hard to be a religious poet, even, or especially, in the pantheist, humanist, autobiographical twentieth century mode of James Dickey. No amount of "jack-hammering" of the spirit, outdoorsy psalm singing, muscular leaps and bounds, rugged juxtapositions, or lyrical-non-lyrical ramming of images--all the qualities that James Dickey has, or offers, in tactless and innundating profusion (perhaps the title of this new collection can stand as an emblem of his style)--will do. One is either "inspired" by God, or one is not; the reader either believes the tone, the afflatus, the visions, or he does not. This is not to say that what James Dickey presents is untrue. These narrative-shaped, "divine" monologues, hymns, and notations may very well be the sighs, sights, joys, and dolors of his life, what he has experienced, dreamed, remembered, feared, been blessed by, or doomed with; lacking evidence to the contrary, who could contend otherwise? what the reader, however, can do is, observing the actual and more or less unexceptionable subject matter of the poems (boyhood friends, diabetes, mementos of the Pacific war, a dog "bitten by a rabid female fox," pine trees, snakes, hunting days in the suburban wilderness), ask whether the expansive, on-rolling, block-buster mystical auras with which he saturates his verse are fitting and affecting, or whether they seem stage properties, lengthy, boring, processional tricks? Dickey is a much-praised, appealing poet: his girts are modest, but real. Alas, lately he has shown a hunger to be king of the hill; foolishly reaching to the sky he can only embarrass his admirers.