I just finished reading James Dickey’s Deliverance. I’ve long admired his poetry, and my teenage friends and I knew the movie by heart. As I read, the images in my mind the looked an awful lot like Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight.While the film captures the central themes of the book, especially the brutal struggle of wildness and civilization, the poetry can only be found in the words on a page:
A slow force took hold of us; the bank began to go backward. I felt the complicated urgency of the current, like a thing made of many threads being pulled, and with this came the feeling I always had at the moment of losing consciousness at night, going toward something unknown that I could not avoid, but from which I would return. (p. 73)
The biography at poetryfoundation.org states:
one of Dickey’s principal themes, usually expressed through direct confrontation or surreal juxtaposition of nature and civilization, was the need to intensify life by maintaining contact with the primitive impulses, sensations, and ways of seeing suppressed by modern society. As Joan Bobbitt wrote in Concerning Poetry, Dickey “sees civilization as so far removed from nature, its primal antecedent, that only [grotesque] aberrations can aptly depict their relationship and, as he implies, possibly restore them to harmony and order.”
I enjoyed the novel, but I am enamored with his poetry, like the final stanza from “Cherrylog Road“:
It now lately sometimes seemed like a kind of black miracle to me that people could actually care deeply about a subject or pursuit, and could go on caring this way for years on end. Could dedicate their entire lives to it. It seemed admirable and at the same time pathetic. We are all dying to give our lives away to something, maybe. God or satan, politics or grammar, topology or philately — the object seemed incidental to this will to give oneself away, utterly. To games or needles, to some other person. Something pathetic about it. A flight-from in the form of a plunging-into. Flight from exactly what? These rooms blandly filled with excrement and meat? To what purpose? This was why they started us here so young: to give ourselves away before the age when the questions why and to what grow real beaks and claws. It was kind, in a way. Modern German is better equipped for combining gerundives and prepositions than its mongrel cousin. The original sense of addiction involved being bound over, dedicated, either legally or spiritually. To devote one’s life, plunge in. I had researched this. Stice had asked whether I believed in ghosts. It’s always seemed a little preposterous that Hamlet, for all his paralyzing doubt about everything, never once doubts the reality of the ghost. Never questions whether his own madness might not in fact be unfeigned. Stice had promised something boggling to look at. That is, whether Hamlet might be only feigning feigning. I kept thinking of the Film and Cartridge Studies professor’s final soliloquy in Himself’s unfinished Good-Looking Men in Small Clever Rooms that Utilize Every Centimeter of Available Space with Mind-Boggling Efficiency, the sour parody of academic that the Moms had taken as an odd personal slap. I kept thinking I should go up and check on The Darkness. There seemed to be so many implications even to thinking about sitting up and standing up and exiting V.R.5 and taking a certain variable-according-to-stride-length number of steps to the stairwell door, on and on, that just the thought of getting up made me glad I was lying on the floor.
If you’ve never read or heard Mr. Wallace’s commencement speech he gave to Kenyon College in 2005, I suggest you do so.
But if you only have 20 minutes, and you’d like a more uplifting story about Afghanistan, listen to Andrew Solomon on the Moth. I failed in holding back tears of joy. Click on segment 1 to listen to the full story.