thumbnail of Library of Congress lectures; James Dickey, part one
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
National Educational radio presents another in a series of lectures recorded at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. under the auspices of the Kirk to Clark whittle poetry and literature front. Today the library's consultant in poetry James techie speaks on the subject spinning the crystal ball guesses at the future of American portrayed. Is introduced by the director of the reference department Dr Roy P-bass. Good evening ladies and gentleman. It is a great pair of ladies that I have tonight to end because our speaker. James decking the consultant in gray. Was done with this since last September. I am very happy if you do announce if you haven't already seen the announcement that he has agreed to be with us again for a second year. And there are. We can look forward to. Hearing him
next fall and then again next spring. As is customary for the consultant to give to appearances during each year of his incumbency. In November nineteen. Sixty five. I have the privilege of introducing him to his first audience here at the Library of Congress. So I'm lucky again tonight since the librarian could not be here. Sharing the stage with him. Just briefly. When Jim came to the Library of Congress in November. He gave us one of the best readings I think we've ever had. He reads his poetry. Effectively and beautifully. He does just as well or better with his problem that you can do better.
Than he does with his reading. He's an excellent critic I think has. One of the soundest heads when he looks at. What other poets do. And for that reason I think we can expect. To learn something tonight. Today happens to be. The publication date of his most recently published book Poems 1957. 1967. I hope all of you run out and get a copy just as soon as you have learned there's is a great pleasure to introduce. Our consultant in poetry James Duckett. And on. Thank you very much.
I hope you all are priests. In any event Welcome to the latest session of the poet at BET. But if the poet that man his condition is NOT know no reason why you should. In fact poets like to be at bay and sort of sort of their natural habitat. They're always at the edge and what they do there at the edge is to write poems and make speeches. Above all they express their opinions which some segment of the population seems to find worth listening to. So this is a speech concerning my opinions and. It is one man's meat and time eat since the prefix antis so popular these days. These remarks are not so much from the vantage of any particular height.
But merely from an involvement in the situation from which the future must inevitably come whether it comes from my from my part of our part in the situation or not. It's the kind of speech which will try to combine a certain more last hope for a less shrewd guesswork and blindly emotional prejudice. That is it will be partly about what I think might happen in American power and what I hope will happen and if the speech turns out to be clairvoyant I will be more surprised than any of you. Well first first of all how does one usually predict. From him Perkel evidence mainland one file has to say what shall be from an examination of what has been as it operates on what is now. And as these two examinable
bodies of evidence seem to indicate a continuation of one through the other the kind of vector that points in a certain direction. But again before I plunge into the weird world of assessment and prediction. Let me stress once more the purely personal nature of these remarks. If certain senators and allegiances color what I say. And I would like to believe that these may be taken simply as evidence of involvement of caring. Now to proceed from the available evidence rather than from preference we can look first at the confessional school or what I would be tempted to call the poetry of personal complaint. The most prominent figure in this group is Robert Lowell but his work is already so well known in this and other regards that it would be better here to look at
some of its results and how his influence operates in the work of those who are seeking to continue it and extend it. When one reads W.D. Snodgrass R. and Sexton and most particularly Sylvia Plath one thing strikes one before anything else. If you can follow that. The impulse behind the behind the poetry appears to be a noun that no doubt is essentially therapeutic. One variation or another of the famous statement of D.H. Lawrence one shared one sicknesses and books. The material is pretty much the same as that which furnishes the conversation of the psychoanalytical encounter and the desperate phone call to the best friend whom the caller simply will not cannot let go until he or she has poured out the whole truth. Without the physical details of humiliation and the rest the notion here now that no new one to
either analyst or bartender are in fact anyone else is that is there if one can get it out and share it. That is describe it. One can alleviate the entire row pain of the condition one describes an analogy that occurs to me in this connection is oddly enough in the recent William Manchester book on the assassination of President Kennedy. The fascination of the book is that it functions as a kind of rite of eggs our system. People feel that if the terrible event is known fully known to the least detail of who stood where and what this one wore and what the other one thought that day in Dallas will then deliver its secret the secret that everyone believes it had must have. So with these poets my complaint against the poets of personal complaint is not that they are confessional in the sense of being engaged in a true encounter with the horrible depths that everyone has with the compulsive hatreds that tear us
apart but that they are not confessional enough. They are slick play confessional they are glib. They do not know the real life as opposed to literary life they purport to do they are astonishingly literary. And here I mean literary in the bad sense. Despite their insistence on ordinary life here are a few excerpts from a poem by Sylvia Plath for example called Fever 103 degrees. Here are what does it mean. The tongues of Hell are dollars the triple tongues of the fat who is at the gate of the low smokes roll from me like is a door a scar is a door and I'm well known in the sport. With the scarf wrapped around the rear axle. Or greasing the bodies of adulterers like Hiroshima one must get out in some way. The sheets grow heavy as a lecture
scares them so the main feeling that one has at least that I have is of an attempt to be clever. And if there is one thing that I find intolerable in the the literature you are in the world it is slick knowing patter about suffering and guilt particularly about one's own. This is a limited and Salop cystic approach to power for luxury eating and hiding back behind the supposition on the reader's part that the poet has actually suffered what the poem describes. One can surely sympathize with that part of it as one would sympathize with a person whether a poet or not. It is the it is the way in which the suffering is presented that so far as the facet and which the reader will not easily forgive. The more he believes the personal situation the less he believes the poem. I think though that the confessional poem as a kind of poem is near the end of its tenure. Who could outdo Robert Lowell at that.
One must in the end I believe be more than a follower. If one is a true poet. The confessional poets believe in life in their life rather than in art out on the West Coast at that bastion of American neo classicism Stanford University. They believe in art they believe in the mind in quotation marks. Famous line of I Have A When I was nor is the mind in vain. In them they believe in the mind and in its capacity to make sense of experience and to embody that sense in verse that proceeds by by means of the rational faculties. They are poets of classical severity and a surprising degree of wit. They are not chaotic nor arbitrary. And if I despair they despair in extremely educated ways. This is part of a sequence by J.V. Cunningham. Untitled. It was in Vegas. Celibate and Abel. I left the silver dollars on the table and tried to show
the blackout baggy pants of course. And then this answer to romance her ass twitching as if she had a fit of gold crotch grinding her athletic tips one clock the other counterclockwise twirling. It was enough to keep a man from girling. We want one like this because of one reason for this is that the true heart of the educated sensitive man is to confront something like the gold crotch of Las Vegas. It is exactly the kind of encounter which the neo classic wit me that calls forth his best powers including his powers of versification and rhyme. Verse is here a medium of control rather than of confession. But it is no less of an egg's are cism than the point of LOL. The eggs are cism is in the control as
McLuhan might say but I don't think his Yet said. We might make a point of to hear about the interaction of literary technique and personality which has always interested me that much as well as other people. It seems to me that literary techniques not only express but alter the personality fully as much as the personality determines the techniques. As he is so he writes his coverage. To writers Cunningham does requires a special use of the intelligence. A great deal of schooling a belief in the poem as a conservator rather than as a release or of energies and insides. And it often also require a classical education. For example this is a trance translation by Cunningham which I love which I think is just one hell of a poem by the Latin poet Janice wee Tallis had on me Thomas whom I've never heard before Must much less try to pronounce. It is called Rome. Think of this the tourists
you that a stranger in mid Rome seek Rome and can find nothing in mid Rome of Rome. Behold this massive walls these abrupt rocks where the vast theatre lies overwhelmed. Here here is Rome. Look how the very corpse of greatness still imperiously breathes threats the world she conquered strove herself to conquer conquered that nothing be unconquered by her now conquer Rome is interred in conquered Rome and the same room conquered and conquered. Still Tiber flows on swift waves to the sea. Learn hands what fortune can the unmoved fall VPs and the ever moving will remain forever. This is coo beautiful and final and the chefs and slights of meaning that occur from one use to the other of the verbs and nouns having to do with conquest are quite beyond the conception of anybody in extremis skillful
and subtle intelligence. And I would hazard a guess that they are also beyond the powers of the original Latin poet as well. Poems of this sort come out of an essentially humanistic attitude an attitude which admits to the limited ness and perhaps vanity of human knowledge. And yet when we read the other mostly younger practitioners of this approach to the poem how dry and pedantic they seem. There are not many Cunninghams among them. Many seem to be without any kind of significant subject matter though they know the conventions of verse perhaps better than they are known and most others do. What is a kind of practice having possibilities of influencing the future this approach is not a good bet. It requires more reading more delicacy of nuance more control than most other kinds. Furthermore it also appears that more and more gaffes are expended to bring forth less and less obviously valuable results. It seems to me that the neo classes are a minority group and will remain so. It
may be that people are tired of too much conscious manipulation and poems scale particularly particularly of the obviously mannered sort becomes boring so that even a magnificent poet like Hopkins Paul's a bit because his poems are so obviously poems. Literature. Most of the better young poets on both sides of the Atlantic tend to reject this kind of mannerism including what many of them regard as the mannerism of RA as not only unnecessary but in a certain sense misleading or even to morrow. For example one of the very best of the new poets the comedian David Weevil who now lives and writes in England has this to say in answer to some questions asked him on the BBC Third Programme. He says I respect the traditional formal disciplines of English poetry but I don't feel drawn to employ them. I think because by experience I've learned that they don't really suit my needs and that I'd much rather pay great attention to individual words and phrases and cadences and at the
moment I straitjacket myself with a strict form or meter. I'm not free to say what I want to say. This doesn't mean that one writes in a completely and disciplined way. But you've then got to impose your own set of rules and that's a very personal thing. Now this is an important point this very personal thing. This way of substituting one's own cadences for more predictable or traditional ones and insisting on them to the extent of excluding received modes of writing we will is a real poet and his individuality as a writer is evident and at the same time is available only to himself. And I suspect that for one kind of power in one kind of poetry this is as it should be. But the American writers who want to break with tradition as one might have predicted want a laydown manifestos of one kind or another and form groups publish their own magazines and go through the whole familiar bit of organizing everything. This is the case with a group of poets led by Charles Olson and includes writers like Robert
Creeley Robert Duncan Edward dawn and to some extent the NIS level. Oh some steer is far more interesting than his verse on Armada or most of that of his followers. One is never sure that one understands it or at least not completely. He has all kinds of notions for example about the relationship of the line to breathing and other bodily processes and he uses a curious and perhaps private vocabulary to talk about them. Here's an example as well-known as any other. I quote a poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it. He will have some sever causations by way of the poem itself to all the way over to the reader. OK. Well at this point the reader agrees. OK OK but so what. But. But to resume Olsen is then says. Then the poem must at all points be a high energy construct and at all points and energy discharge.
There seems to me to display a certain degree of naive. When Alston uses a term like energy construct he supposes himself to be using a scientific vocabulary. But what he is in fact using is a layman's idea of scientific lingo or jargon. Who would not want to believe for example that poet poetry is energy in this sense or indeed in any other. But also it is a specialized and prejudicial use of the term and it is a manically absolutely meaningless. What this kind of usage represents is the effort perhaps inadvertent but symptomatic nonetheless. The effort of a basically unscientific mind to dignify in quotation marks or at least make acceptable to his science cowed followers and readers. I think poetry which is not scientific at all. That is not subject to empirical proof but which is animate and personal subjective. If it be argued that subjectivity is is subject to scientific investigation
one would then have to come up with a means of measuring or assessing the kind of energy some kind of psychic or imaginative energy I suppose which Olson posits. And it is not difficult to see the absurdity of this. Well the test of all theories of poetry is the kind of poetry they produce and this is well some group seems to me to fail all but abjectly. That work has absolutely no personal rhythm to it. It all comes out the tiresome and predictable prose Innes of William Carlos Williams. It is the sort of thing as Randall Gerard once remarked that you used to illustrate to a class the fact that the sports page of the daily paper can be rendered into accentuate syllabic verse back cutting it into lines and quotation marks. The other movement again more quotation marks around movement around is the one headed up by Robert Bly out of Madison Minnesota as professional soldiers say of the particular war they are fighting in at the time. It ain't much but it's the only one we got.
Blood believes that the salvation of English poetry is to be found in none English poetry but a killer lay in Spanish and French and German understood as badly as possible. One does translation is taking as many liberties as one wants to take with the original it being understood that this enables one somehow to approach the spirit of the poet one is translating. If I had time I would talk some about surrealism for the French and Spanish the realist poets are very much the bellwethers of the Bligh faction but it might be better to call a couple of things to show you the end result. This is by and a propos I'm approaching winter September clouds the first day for wearing jackets. The corn is wandering in dark car doors near the well and the whisper of tombs. I sit alone surrounded by a dry cough. Near the second growth of the pig weeds and hear the corn leaves scrape their feet on the wind. Three fallen arrows are lying on the
dusty earth. The useful areas will lie dry in cribs but the others missed by the picker will lie here touching the ground the whole winter. Snow will come and cover the husks of the fallen ears with the flakes infinitely delicate like jewels of a murdered Gothic prints which were lost centuries ago during a great battle in the poem. Now here is another poem called it thinking of Robert Bly and James Wright. On the first hot day in April after having stayed up late all night drinking and singing with a gang of old Norwegian trolls. As extraction as well whenever I think of you tiny white horses gallop away in darkness I am allowed by the sound of old guitars by ghostly thing those of the wind. Your gentleness is like beautiful white snow drifting down on ancient homesteads
over a lonely perch primaries in Tennessee and you are falling falling softly. America is falling also in the dark cathedrals of the sea. But what is that to me. I am oblivious to missile silos and Minnesota. I live here in the holy darkness listening to cornstalks creaking thinking I have thinking I have ruined myself climbing over a pale barbed wire fence. Now there though this latter point is a conscious parody it came to me in the mail the other day the writer said he turned it out without changing a word is there says he could type. Though as I say it is a parody it really isn't. For it is completely understandable Chabal from the seriously intended poems that models itself. It has the same particular forms and characteristics as its model. The sentimentality of the attempt to link up all sorts of disparate items sno cone jewels of murdered princes missile silos and so on in a kind of loose emotional
mental drifting having a bogus conclusion. The parody is as good and as bad as the original. It is as arbitrary. This is essentially a derivative imitating the extremely lazy unimaginative poetry small static and very easy to write. It lacks necessity of statement it cannot sustain narrative. If the salvation of American poetry is to write imitation Spanish poems even that will have to be done better than this. But no such salvation is indicated even if it were possible. We have a lot more going for us and then. Now up to now I have been sort of taken inventory of the extant poetry the movements the kinds of writing that we have among us now and that are symptomatic of certain trends as might be evident evident I don't care much for any of these. That is I've been dwelling among the empirical evidence up to now
with some admiration but mainly indifference and some distaste. Let me now go on and develop what I think should happen with and with with luck will happen. First of all let me read something. It's by Randall Jarell is going to be if he isn't already a hero to us. This is the beginning of the first poem of his book The last world moving from cheer to Joy. From joy to all. You reckon as the saying. Well it will take a box and add it to my wild rice. My Cornish game hens. The slack or shorted basket identical food gathering flocks ourselves I overlook wisdom said William James is learning what to overlook. And I am wise if that is wisdom. Yet somehow as I buy all from these shelves and the boy takes it to my station wagon. What I have become troubles me even if I shut
my eyes when I was poor and miserable and pretty and young and miserable and pretty and poor. I do wish what all girls wish to have a husband a house and children. Now that I am of my way she is a woman. That the boy putting groceries in my car seen me hit by Will does me that he doesn't see me. Now this has his faults like much of Jor-El's work it is somewhat flat but it does have the quality that I'd like to see become dominant in the poetry that is forthcoming. It is convincing as speech before it is convincing or even felt as art as poetry. One believes it and therefore the poem can act either as human communication or poetry or both without the reader having to kill off one side of his receptiveness so that the other can operate.
Library of Congress lectures
James Dickey, part one
Producing Organization
National Association of Educational Broadcasters
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-4t6f5p3x).
Episode Description
This program, the first of two parts, presents Library of Congress consultant in poetry James Dickey on the future of American poetry.
Series Description
A series of lectures given at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Producer: Library of Congress
Producing Organization: National Association of Educational Broadcasters
Speaker: Dickey, James
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 67-Sp.2-7 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:27:05
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Library of Congress lectures; James Dickey, part one,” 1967-11-06, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 16, 2024,
MLA: “Library of Congress lectures; James Dickey, part one.” 1967-11-06. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 16, 2024. <>.
APA: Library of Congress lectures; James Dickey, part one. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from