Cover image for James Dickey : the world as a lie
James Dickey : the world as a lie
Hart, Henry, 1954-
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First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Picador USA, 2000.
Physical Description:
xix, 811 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, portraits ; 25 cm
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PS3554.I32 Z695 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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A fascinating biography of one of the most popular, colorful, and notorious American poets of our century. The legendary Southern poet James Dickey never shied away from cultivating a heroic mystique. Like Norman Mailer and Ernest Hemingway, he earned a reputation as a sportsman, boozer, war hero, and womanizer as well as a great poet, novelist, screenwriter, and essayist. But James Dickey made lying both a literary strategy and a protective camouflage; even his family and closest friends failed to distinguish between the mythical James Dickey and the actual man. Henry Hart sees lying as the central theme to Dickey's life; and in this authoritative, immensely entertaining biography he delves deep behind Dickey's many masks. Letters, anecdotes, tall tales and true ones, as well as the reluctant but finally candid cooperation of Dickey himself animate Hart's narration of a remarkable life.Readers of Dickey's National Book Award-winning poetry, his bestselling novel Deliverance , and anyone who witnessed his electrifying readings of his work will savor this book.

Author Notes

Henry Hart is a professor at the College of William and Mary

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

According to this assiduously researched bio, James Dickey (1923--1997), in the unfortunate tradition of poseur-poets with invented selves who sustain their facades with drink, plunged from dazzling promise to alcoholic decline. Few contemporary biographies have so exhaustively and graphically evoked the rise and self-destruction of a literary reputation. Yet the reader puts down Hart's frankly detailed tome wondering whether the author of Deliverance (1970) was worth the years spent tracking down what Hart depicts as his obsessive lying, his compulsive philandering, his exploitation of intimates, his spiral downward from postmodernist highflier to pathetic wreck. Hart, a poet and literary critic at the College of William and Mary, has produced a page-turner that compels because of the relentlessness of its dissection rather than by any grace of style. Whether anything will survive of Dickey's large literary output is more difficult to assess from this account, as relatively little of his prose or verse is quoted for analysis. Instead, Hart relies on Dickey's swaggering interviews and the many people who were mesmerized by his personality or injured by his abuse. As the poet slowly disintegrates, the impact is less tragic than pathetic. In Deliverance, Hart writes, the narrator "continually debates whether he should tell a story or tell the truth." Dickey apparently had no such qualms. 16 pages b&w photos not seen by PW. (Mar.) FYI: Crux: The Letters of James Dickey, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli and Judith S. Baughman, was reviewed in Forecasts, Oct. 25, 1999. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Like Faulkner before him, James Dickey used a series of lies to construct a public persona of swaggering athletic and sexual prowess, sporting bravado, and military achievement. In exhausting detail, Hart (The James Dickey Reader) traces Dickey's life from his birth in Atlanta in 1923 to his death in 1997. Using letters, journals, and conversations with friends and family, Hart chronicles Dickey's years at Vanderbilt and in the Air Force--where, contrary to his own statements, he never became a fighter pilot--his work as a copywriter, his years as a teacher, and his meteoric rise and calamitous fall as a writer. After a brilliant achievement in his early poetry, Dickey reached his zenith with Deliverance in 1972. Then he descended into an alcoholic inferno and a violence-filled second marriage. Although Hart demonstrates that Dickey was one of the greatest men of letters of the 20th century, this book is an example of the excesses of contemporary literary biography. Do we really need to know what Dickey ate on a particular night in London? Still, this book is destined to become the standard Dickey biography. Recommended for all libraries.--Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Lancaster, OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Hart's gargantuan biography chronicles, in excruciating, intimate detail, the public excesses and the private hells of Dickey's brilliant, destructive life. Hart (College of William & Mary) portrays Dickey as a consummate liar whose entire life was nothing but a crazy quilt of ingenious fabrications--from his tales of athletic glory at Clemson and Vanderbilt to his yarn about being an active fighter pilot in WW II. Dickey himself once said that "the manner in which a man lies, and what he lies about ... are the main things to investigate in a poet's life and work." Hart uses Dickey's poetry, interviews, and letters to narrate the writer's meteoric rise and the tumultuous fall after the success of Deliverance (1972). The image that emerges is less one of the inventive, innovative poet and critic than of an insecure man constantly needing to reinvent himself in order to live up to the lies he had already constructed for himself. Although it purports to present a more complete and objective picture of Dickey than the one found in Christopher Dickey's Summer of Deliverance (1998), Hart's biography has already prompted a great deal of debate over what some see as its derogatory and derisive depiction of Dickey. Recommended for general readers, undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty. H. L. Carrigan Jr.; Independent Scholar



Chapter One Cityfolk and Countryfolk James Dickey entered the world on February 2, 1923, the day the groundhog was supposed to crawl from his burrow and predict the advent of spring. Although the groundhog never became one of his totem animals--fiercer animals like the wolverine, the shark, and the lynx claimed that distinction--he liked to regale audiences in the 1960s with tales of growing up among the animals of the North Georgia hills. In aphoristic moods he would say: "The fox knows many things, but the groundhog knows one big thing." For some Dickey played the groundhog, the contemplative burrower, the loner in touch with a great secret. For others he played the fox, the Renaissance man, the wily predator with irrepressible curiosities and appetites. Dickey shared his Groundhog Day birthday, as he liked to point out, with Farrah Fawcett and James Joyce. Browsing in the Doubleday bookstore in New York, he once met Fawcett, the actress who appeared as a glamorous detective in the television series Charley's Angels . When he proudly announced to her that they shared a birthday, she reputedly said, "I beg your pardon?" In his seductive Southern voice, Dickey replied, "Yes, we do." She was taken aback by this unexpected revelation: "My goodness. And who are you?" Dickey said he was "just a fan," and watched her exit the store flanked by her bodyguards. His other birth mate was no Hollywood star, but a penurious, highbrow writer devoted to avant-garde principles. Because Fawcett and Joyce represented two sides of his personality that merged and clashed throughout his life, Dickey was forever joking about the date they shared with the groundhog.     His claims to an impoverished childhood in Georgia's Appalachian Mountains notwithstanding, Dickey was born in Atlanta's Davis-Fisher Sanitorium (it became the Crawford Long Hospital in 1931). Along with his father, Eugene, and mother, Maibelle, Dickey spent his first three years in his maternal grandmother's palatial, white-columned house at 1459 Peachtree Street. His grandmother, Mrs. Huntley, enjoyed all the benefits of a life made leisurely by wealth and servants. Like many Atlanta families, the Huntleys and Dickeys did their best to resurrect the comforts undermined by the Civil War. Near their fashionable neighborhood, Pershing Point, where Peachtree and West Peachtree Streets converged, Margaret Mitchell's parents had built a house in 1912. Jim Dickey had reason to feel a sense of kinship with his fellow Atlantan beyond the coincidence of family names (Mitchell's early nickname was Jimmy, her lawyer father was Eugene, and her mother was May Belle). As Dickey grew up, like Mitchell, he was torn between the romantic myths of the old South and the more enlightened ways of the new.     Margaret Mitchell's house at 1149 Peachtree, grand as it was with its Palladian entrance and Doric columns, was less prominent than the house at 1459, at least during the period before Gone with the Wind was published. Dickey's first house earned a place on an Atlanta postcard and became a showpiece for tourists. His maternal grandmother, Lena Huntley (nee Burckhardt), came from a German family--her mother was German-born, which in the 1930s and 1940s must have complicated his childhood. Like Theodore Roethke, his favorite American poet, Dickey as an adult both romanticized and reviled his German roots. In 1996, several months before he died, he told an interviewer: "I didn't speak English until I was five or six years old. I was raised in a German-speaking household." In fact, Dickey learned only a few German words, which he often confused, from the woman he and his siblings called grossmutter . She taught him richtig tun , which means "do it right," and a phrase from a German poet: " Es muss sein, es muss sein " ("it must be, it must be"), a dictum that haunted Dickey all his life. Equally haunting was the book Struwwelpeter , a group of sadistic stories about punishments meted out to children. "That was a horrible book," he would say. "Scariest damn thing you've ever seen." Dickey exaggerated the Germanic nature of his upbringing because he believed that his own penchant for iron-willed discipline, cruelty, and fatalism was rooted there.     Grandmother Huntley imparted an affection for German culture that remained with Dickey until he died. She read him Schiller and Goethe (her favorite line from Schiller was "Against ignorance even the gods have struggled in vain") and taught him that a writer should have noble ideas and write about them in noble ways. She cultivated his ear for German music, especially Mozart. Dickey's voluminous novel Alnilam , which he worked on nearly his entire creative life, was his most sustained examination of the Apollonian and Dionysian contraries he'd inherited from his German forebears. Charismatic power and the chaos that resulted from it were his two principal themes. From his boyhood on, Dickey was obsessed with what Nietzsche called the "ubermensch," the "higher man" or superman, and his tragic falls. Publicly, Dickey sometimes pooh-poohed German culture by joking about its dullness, but privately its extremes enthralled him. He once told a reporter for the Washington Post : "I love to read dull books.... I think it's because my heritage on my mother's side is German, and they run to that sort of thing. That's why they've produced so many philosophers, like Kant and Hegel. Especially them, but also Schopenhauer and Fichte and many another. To say nothing of the impenetrable Heidegger, who doesn't really have anything much to say." Many of these philosophers expressed sentiments sympathetic to authoritarianism, and Heidegger was a Nazi apologist at one point. During Alnilam's gestation, Dickey expressed a keen interest in the Nazis and all other cults that led multitudes to ruin by first turning them into zealots; his other novels and poetry are shot through with supermen, whose impact on the world is at once heroic and profoundly destructive.     For the young Dickey, Mrs. Huntley, who had married a dentist after Mr. Burckhardt's death, could be a gentle eccentric as well as a martinet. Her second husband was equally eccentric--he liked to get drunk and walk around the house playing a zither in the nude. Normally kind and understanding, Mrs. Huntley was sickly, as was her daughter, Maibelle, Dickey's mother. Huntley suffered from diabetes, which made her blind. When she contracted gangrene, she had to have a leg amputated. The possibility and reality of amputation horrified the young Dickey. He later filled his novels and poems with an array of severed appendages, as well as characters who suffered from diabetes. In middle age, Dickey himself would claim falsely--that--he was diabetic.     Family antagonisms simmered beneath the orderliness of 1459 Peachtree. The aristocratic Huntley had opposed her daughter's marriage to Eugene Dickey, a rather lackadaisical man and an undistinguished lawyer whose main ambition in life was to become an esteemed cockfighter. Among other detractions, he had little standing in Atlanta society and little desire to gain any. Maibelle's family felt their daughter had married a "damn Yankee" and "Negro sympathizer," or, as Dickey bluntly put it in later life, "a Negro." (Dickey's father, in fact, had old-fashioned ideas about race, which led him to support such notorious segregationists as Lester Maddox in the 1960s.)     Maibelle as a young woman was shy, solitary, and homely. She never dated Eugene; he simply showed interest, proposed, and on December 29, 1910, married her. The Peachtree house was spacious, but the inevitable tensions in the family gave the Dickeys a reason to find a house of their own. In 1925, they moved from Peachtree to a stately red-brick house at 166 West Wesley Road in the Atlanta suburb known as Buckhead. Opulent mansions lined both sides of the street, and the Dickey house held its own among them. Its two stories, symmetrical wing rooms, and mansard roof typified houses built in Atlanta's affluent suburbs during the early twentieth century. The front doorway, which was surrounded by small glass windows, exhibited aspects of Palladian architecture, while the entablature was Greek Revival and the chimney and overall proportions of the house were modernist. Ivy-covered pine and oak trees shaded the house from the sun and gave the Dickey children an ideal place to play.     Even as a child Dickey was aware of Atlanta's relatively short, turbulent history. On his trips to the Chattahoochee River, where his father owned land, he could envision the Civil War battles that had erupted around earthworks still jutting from the river valley, and the Indian battles that preceded them. The Chattahoochee River had once formed the ancient boundary between Creeks and Cherokees and had been the site of Sherman's triumphs during his march toward Atlanta in July 1864. Here, decades later, the young Dickey played, camped, entertained fantasies of heroic combat, and developed a keen sense of ruins and resurrections. If he looked one way, he could see signs of the war that reduced Atlanta to broken walls and blackened chimney stems. If he looked another, he could see the phoenix-like city that had soared from the ashes.     Part of Atlanta's recrudescence began in 1886 when a druggist, John Pemberton, began selling a tonic called Coca-Cola to the public. By 1920, three years before Dickey's birth, Atlanta had recovered sufficiently from the Civil War to become a fair-sized city with over 200,000 people. During Dickey's boyhood, Atlanta burgeoned on many fronts. In 1922, radio stations went on the air for the first time. In 1923, a new baseball park was built after fire destroyed the Atlanta Crackers' old park on Ponce de Leon Avenue. Hotels, office buildings, and homes sprouted everywhere. The city built the airport known as Candler Field (named for the creator of The Coca-Cola Company) in the mid-1920s. Delta Air Lines, for whom Dickey would write advertising copy in the 1950s after working on the Coca-Cola account, set up its headquarters in Atlanta in 1929.     At the beginning of the twentieth century, Atlanta was an odd mix of progressive and reactionary factions. Partly due to the efforts of Margaret Mitchell's mother, an ardent feminist, Atlanta women obtained the right to vote a year before the 1920 constitutional amendment that granted suffrage to women. Despite their political advances, many women were content with their traditional roles. Among the activities prized by fashionable women were the dances at the Piedmont Driving Club, where Dickey's sister Maibelle (named after her mother) socialized, and the Capital City Club, where Dickey's father was a member. At the first Piedmont dinner dance after the Great War, Dickey's mother was among the guests. Because of her war service making bandages and other supplies, she greeted the guest of honor, the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, Gen. John Pershing.     While some Atlantans dined and danced at posh clubs, an organized crime family known as the "bunco ring" flourished in the city. After Prohibition took effect on January 16, 1920, illegal stills and bootleggers proliferated. Corrupt, racist politicians extended their tentacles throughout Atlanta. During Dickey's childhood, the Democratic-Populist demagogue Thomas Watson continued to influence Atlanta politics with his anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, and antiblack tirades. The Ku Klux Klan had a powerful hand in city government into the 1920s. The young Dickey absorbed these contradictory social attitudes and never completely resolved them. As an adult, old South and new South continued to battle in his psyche.     With the stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing Depression, Atlanta plunged with the rest of America into financial chaos. The Dickeys were a notable exception. Having inherited money from the SSS Tonic Company, Dickey's mother provided for the family as if the Roaring Twenties had never ended. Embarrassed by his family's affluence and how they came by it, Dickey usually repudiated any suggestion that he had been raised by wealthy parents. To his closest friends he mocked his grandfather's tonic company, saying that its slogan should be "Go where the ignorance is," since it targeted poor, uneducated blacks. In his unpublished novel The Entrance to the Honeycomb , written in the early 1950s, and a draft of it he called The Casting , he expressed his repugnance for inherited wealth through his alter ego, Julian Glass. Asked about the amenities of 166 West Wesley, Dickey usually feigned ignorance. In fact, his parents hired numerous servants. A chauffeur, Andrew James Burney, drove the Dickeys around Atlanta, gardened, and did odd jobs around the house. A Hungarian cook, Julia, lived in the house and prepared the meals. Temperamental and superstitious (she was known to throw skillets when angry and hang chicken heads on the clothesline to keep away evil spirits), she was also a superb chef. Old George was another "character" who worked at West Wesley. Allowed into the house only on holidays, he drank one beer, played the harmonica, and always told a gothic tale about a black snake. The rest of the time he tended the yard. A succession of maids (one named Coreer was Dickey's favorite) were in charge of domestic chores. Two nursemaids--one for Jim and one for his younger brother, Tom--also worked for the Dickeys.     According to Tom, the family had a budget of about fifteen hundred dollars per month for maintaining their household during the Depression (today this would amount to about two hundred thousand dollars per year). Low taxes in the 1930s made the Dickeys even more comfortable. Dickey once admitted, "I don't remember really that there was any special pinch on us financially. Maybe because my mother's income was from patent medicine and depression years are very good for patent medicine because people can't afford to pay doctors. We never really suffered, but we were not rich." The Dickeys were not fabulously wealthy like Ernest Woodruff, who presided over The Coca-Cola Company at the time, but they earned a princely sum from their tonic company nevertheless--and without having to work for it. Despite sudden memory lapses when the subject of servants arose, Dickey remembered them well. His bond with his private nurse, Mamie Doster, was particularly close and affectionate, partly because she read to him. His claims of a philistine childhood were as apocryphal as his claims of early poverty. "He was born with a book in his hand," declared his older sister, Maibelle. Indeed, he constantly implored his nurse to bring him books just as he commanded secretaries to ransack his shelves near the end of his life when illness made walking difficult. His boyhood tastes were eclectic. He wanted to hear children's stories about anthropomorphic animals as much as encyclopedia articles about astronomy. Mrs. Dickey also read to her precocious son. She introduced him to Hamlet , as if to prepare him for his later mother-son and father-son conflicts. Fearing accusations of being a pampered and effeminate child, Dickey sometimes said he had been an untutored, rough-and-tumble pauper, whose parents couldn't afford to buy him a new pair of shoes (throughout his life he blamed his foot problems on this early hardship). He wanted to be regarded as a Horatio Alger hero rather than Little Lord Fauntleroy.     Dickey's need to envision his past in terms of heroic sacrifices influenced the way he viewed his birth. Throughout his life he claimed that his birth had depended on the death of his older brother, Eugene: "I did gather by implication and hints of family relatives that my mother, an invalid with angina pectoris, would not have dared to have another child if Gene had lived. I was the child who was born as a result of this situation. And I always felt a sense of guilt that my birth depended on my brother's death." Dickey's mother kept a picture of Eugene dressed in a sailor suit on her bedroom wall, but like her husband she said little about the pain of losing him. Her silence may have created the appropriate void for her son's imaginings. The idea that he had been conceived because of his brother's death made his birth seem miraculous and Christ-like as well as freighted with original sin, and that's how he treated it in his poetry and prose.     Eugene was born on September 14, 1914, and died of infantile paralysis on April 4, 1921, at the age of six. Dickey's mother suffered from a mild ailment, a valve malfunction in her heart brought on by rheumatic fever. She did not have the more serious angina pectoris. She "dared" to have several more children--Jim and Tom--after Eugene's death (Maibelle was born in 1912). Indeed, she outlived her husband and even outlived Dickey's first wife, Maxine. She died of cancer in 1977 at the age of eighty-nine. According to her grandson, Kevin, who later became a doctor, she did in fact complain of angina and of being constantly fatigued, but exaggerated her illness--a propensity she passed on to her son. Kevin's older brother, Chris, who often stayed with his grandmother, suspected that she retired to her room for long naps in order to get sympathy and keep her distance from her husband. Often during her "naps," she read and listened to the newly established radio stations. Like her husband and like Jim, she was reclusive by nature. Jim's boyhood friends noticed that she stayed inside most of the time and usually wore nothing more than a nightgown. When she and her daughter went out shopping, they "dressed as though they were to meet the queen," as one of Jim's friends remarked, but still she kept her distance by wearing a veil. In the manner of Poe, a writer both mother and son cherished, Maibelle no doubt understood the power a beautiful, aloof, and possibly dying woman could exert.     Despite her manipulative hypochondria, Maibelle Dickey was a caring and generous mother. Her children, especially her daughter, remembered her with great affection. Maibelle once said, If you tried a million years, you could never relate how really wonderful she was. She treated each of her children as an only child, gave each a home of his own, and supplemented all of Jim's grants. She was a marvelous letter writer. Jim probably gets his talent from her, although Papa could write an excellent letter too.... [She] was a very bright and happy-hearted person, especially around her children, in spite of the fact that she had a leaking valve in her heart, which caused her a great deal of concern. She had a great sense of humor also, especially in her letters. My cousin reports that during the war (WWII) his fellow soldiers would often say, "please read more from your aunt's letter!" Then they would all be greatly entertained and have a good time laughing. Her son remembered her similarly: "She was a deeply feeling, quiet sort of retiring person who stayed alone in her thoughts most of the time, but humorous and sweet as she could be, and helpful. She was almost the ideal mother because she stayed out of the way. You asked her something; she would tell you what she thought, but she sure wouldn't impose it on you." To a journalist writing a profile of her, Dickey portrayed her as a paragon of virtue "who lived for her children and would do anything for them, give them anything.... suffer for them, die for them. She was very proud of all of us, and worried continually about us.... Her imaginative and very caring and also very practical kindness--remains with me as the best example that I possess of unqualified and continuous human goodness." Dickey's childhood friends confirmed these sentiments.     Having attended Washington Seminary in Atlanta and then Brenau College in Gainesville, Georgia, Dickey's mother was typical of her generation in that she gave up her career ambitions (singing, painting, and writing were among her talents) in order to raise a family. She channeled her literary abilities into letters rather than poems, stories, or novels. Dickey claimed that he expressed his literary talent at the start of his career in the same way--by writing letters during the war. If his mother was his early tutor, she was also his first literary model and muse. The fact that Dickey, in his later life and writings, often tried to sever his bonds with those women--whether wives or lovers who attracted him betrays a closeness to his biological mother rather than any original antagonism. As a young man, Dickey found it hard to love any woman other than Maibelle. As an adult, he played prodigal son and unfaithful husband, but never disentangled himself from the principal woman in his life.     Maibelle Swift was born in 1889, two decades after the Civil War, in a mansion on Capitol Avenue that later became the first Piedmont Hospital. The original family house was built by her father, Charles Thomas Swift, who died a year after her birth. The remaining Swifts--she had three sisters and a brother--subsequently moved into a house resembling Mount Vernon on the mansion-lined West Paces Ferry Road. Maibelle Dickey owed her fortune to her father, who had cofounded and codirected the company that made "Swift's Southern Specific," known throughout the South as "Three-S Tonic." A Civil War captain in the Georgia Light Artillery, Charles Swift originally bought the formula for his tonic from Irwin Dennard, a plantation owner from Perry, Georgia. According to legend, in 1821 Dennard gave some Creek Indians a suit of clothes for the recipe of herbs and roots (swamp sumac from Alabama, Queen's Delight from South Georgia, and sumac from North Georgia). His slaves found the medicine he bottled highly palatable, perhaps because of its high alcohol content, and regularly used it to cure indigestion.     Charles Swift and his business partner, Col. H. J. Lamar of Macon, Georgia, brought their SSS business to Atlanta around 1873 because of the city's numerous railroads. Like the original Coca-Cola tonic, the Atlanta-based Botanic Blood Balm (BBB), and the many other tonics that circulated after the Civil War, the SSS tonic was supposed to cure all sorts of ailments, from dyspepsia to cancer and syphilis. Sales grew steadily during the late nineteenth century, boomed in the prosperous 1920s, and survived the Depression. Dickey, who jokingly renamed his family's patent medicine "Swift's Syphilitic Specific," once told a friend that sales plummeted when the Pure Food and Drug Act forced the company to eliminate the part of the label referring to cancer. The brick building erected in 1879 to house the company still stands on the northeast corner of Butler and Hunter Streets. The recipe of roots and herbs has changed little, although now it is fortified with iron and vitamins to enrich the blood. Having expanded its product list to include such amenities as toothache gel, skin lotion, and vitamin supplements, in 1997 the company earned nine million dollars in annual sales and still paid dividends to the family.     At the beginning of Deliverance , the novel that made him famous, Dickey intimated that his family's tonic company, with its origins in the quackery of the Old South and commercialism of the new, was one of the sources of privilege he wanted to flee. His persona, Ed, sees a sign for 666, a tonic similar to SSS, and muses: "We hummed along, borne with the inverted canoe on a long tide of patent medicines and religious billboards. From such a trip you would think that the South did nothing but dose itself and sing gospel songs; you would think that the bowels of the southerner were forever clamped shut; that he could not open and let natural process flow through him, but needed one purgative after another in order to make it to church."     Dickey took a certain ambivalent pride in knowing that his grandfather was a successful businessman who'd fought in the Civil War. He inherited from his grandfather a compulsion to prove himself in martial and entrepreneurial are nas, but he never knew Charles Swift, and neither did his mother. Because Swift married relatively late and because Dickey's mother was his youngest child, Dickey explained: "She didn't remember him. The only time she ever saw her father was when she was lifted up as a little girl to kiss his face in the coffin." His grandfather was his most ostensible link to the Old South and to its mixture of idealism, charlatanry, and prejudice. Dickey would spend much of his life wrestling with the inheritance bequeathed by his family's most eminent ghost.     Dickey shared an interest in genealogy with his sister and knew the histories of both sides of his family. Charles Swift traced his lineage to England, Ireland, Germany, and Scotland. His family name derived from a species of bird (like the chimney swift) and the ability to run swiftly. Dickey and his brother, Tom, lived up to their ancestral name by becoming track athletes, Jim a proficient high hurdler and Tom a world-class sprinter. The Swifts of Atlanta distinguished themselves in business, law, and various civic duties. Charles's father, William Tyre Swift (1812-90), was a deacon in the Baptist Church, a promoter of Houston Female College, a judge of the inferior court, and a treasurer for Houston County. In I857, he built a dignified house now known as the "Swift House" on a street that bears his name. Literary as well as business talent graced the Swift family. One of Dickey's alleged ancestors, who left Yorkshire, England, for Dublin early in the seventeenth century, was the writer and dean of Saint Patrick's Cathedral, Jonathan Swift (1667-1715). Dickey liked to stress his connection with this literary Swift and also to imitate his scatalogical wit, reactionary views, irascible temperament, and flights of fancy. Allied to the British, Dickey also claimed kinship to seven Swifts from Virginia and Massachusetts who fought the British during the Revolutionary War. Dickey's feelings for the British vacillated between affection and animosity. At the height of his critical acclaim in America, he was deeply disappointed that so many British critics dismissed his writing as stereotypically American. Under such circumstances he adopted the truculent anti-British attitudes more typical of the Scottish and Irish.     If Dickey needed precedents to explain his conflicted and combative nature, he could easily find them on his father's side of the family as well as his mother's. The Dickeys traced their origins to Richard Talbot, a Norman baron who came to England with William the Conqueror in 1066 A.D. Talbot fought at the Battle of Hastings, and his banner displayed the motto "Forte et Fidele"--Brave and Faithful--ideals Dickey always felt obliged to salute. A family genealogy records that Baron Richard de Talbot, an owner of large estates in England, was the common ancestor of the lords of Malahide and the earls of Shrewsbury, and married the great-granddaughter of William the Conqueror. One Richard de Talbot "the Chevalier" obtained a castle near Dublin and the lordship of Malahide. Originally conferred by King Henry II, this baronial estate continued for seven hundred years in the male line of the Talbots.     The American Talbots descended from John Talbot, tenth earl of Shrewsbury, and Lady Frances Arundel, a member of a prominent English family dating back to 1200. Matthew Talbot traveled to Maryland in 1720, to Virginia's Prince George County in 1725, then to New London in Bedford County, Virginia, in the early 1740s. There he built a store and bartered wolf heads to the government for one hundred pounds of tobacco per head. An educated man, talented writer, and dedicated public servant, he earned many appointments, among them king's agent, high sheriff, commissioner, judge, and clerk of the church. He was known for his generosity, honesty, and manners. James Dickey may not have inherited all of his ancestor's virtues; nonetheless, he was so impressed by the Talbot line that he vowed to give the name Talbot to his first and only child by his second wife, whether it was a girl or a boy. (Continues...)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. vii
Introductionp. xi
I. Originsp. 1
1. Cityfolk and Countryfolkp. 3
II. The Invisible Studentp. 23
2. "A Good Old Scout" (1929-1936)p. 25
3. An Athlete's Masks (1936-1941)p. 32
4. Postgraduate Blues (1941-1942)p. 47
5. A Cadet's Rites of Passage (Fall 1942)p. 51
III. Journey to Warp. 63
6. The Failed Pilot (1943-1944)p. 65
7. The Brain of the Plane (1945)p. 83
IV. Becoming a Poetp. 119
8. Vanderbilt University (1946-1950)p. 121
V. A King in the Classroomp. 153
9. Rice Institute (1950)p. 155
10. The Korean Distraction (1951-1952)p. 159
11. Return to Academe (1952-1954)p. 171
12. Travels in Europe (1954-1955)p. 181
13. Uncle Ez and the Pen Women Scandal (1955-1956)p. 193
VI. Into the Stone: the Advertising Yearsp. 205
14. Coca-Cola and Jingle Jim (1956-1959)p. 207
15. Potato Chips and Canoe Trips (1959-1961)p. 240
VII. Barnstorming for Poetryp. 267
16. Return to Europe (1961-1962)p. 269
17. A Southerner in Oregon (1963-1964)p. 288
18. California Sojourn (1964-1965)p. 321
19. A Frozen Berkeley (Spring 1966)p. 335
VIII. In Poetry's Catbird Seatp. 353
20. First Term (1966-1967)p. 355
21. Second Term (1967-1968)p. 374
IX. Tenure in South Carolinap. 397
22. "A Starry Place Between the Antlers" (1968)p. 399
23. To the Moon and Hollywood (1969)p. 423
X. Deliverancep. 439
24. A Bestseller (1970)p. 441
25. Making the Movie (1971)p. 466
XI. The Second Actp. 493
26. King of the Cats (1971-1972)p. 495
27. Premieres and Their Aftermath (1972-1973)p. 508
28. A Double Vision (1973-1974)p. 529
29. "Star-Beasts of Intellect and Madness" (1975-1976)p. 549
XII. La Vita Nuovap. 563
30. Second Marriage (1976)p. 565
31. Presidential Poet (1977)p. 574
32. New Ventures (1977-1979)p. 586
33. Under the Stone Snows of Mount Saint Helens (1980)p. 605
XIII. Slowly Toward Alnilamp. 619
34. Second Fatherhood (1981-1982)p. 621
35. Puella Troubles (1981-1982)p. 634
36. The Poet at Sixty (1982-1985)p. 647
37. Descent into Chaos (1985-1987)p. 658
38. A Blind Ulysses (1987)p. 671
XIV. To the White Seap. 687
39. Fortunes Rising, Fortunes Falling (1987-1992)p. 689
40. Into the Desolation of Reality (1992-1994)p. 712
41. The Heart of the World (1994-1997)p. 727
42. Last Rites (1997)p. 749
Notesp. 753
Indexp. 781
Permissionsp. 809