DICKEY, JAMES [LAFAYETTE] (1923–1997). James Dickey, noted
poet, novelist, and critic, was born in Atlanta, Georgia. During World War
II, he served in a night-fighter squadron in the South Pacific. In the late
1940s he attended Vanderbilt University, during which time he also began
writing and publishing poems. He received a master’s degree from Vanderbilt and taught at Rice University in Houston from 1950 to 1954, taking
a two-year leave of absence to serve in the Korean War. After successfully
forging a second career as an advertising copywriter and executive, Dickey
returned to poetry full-time in 1960 and became a professor and poet-inresidence at the University of South Carolina in 1968.
As a poet, Dickey has been labeled a romantic modernist. He is primarily
concerned with the rapturous possibilities of nature, as in “The Movement
of Fish” (1961) and “The Heaven of Animals” (1961), and with the lifeawakening experiences of war and violence as contrasted to the deadening
effects of the suburban milieu. His poetry, which appeared throughout the
1950s, 1960s, and 1970s in various literary journals and magazines, has
been collected in several volumes: Into the Stone (1960), Drowning with
Others (1962), Buckdancer’s Choice (1965), and The Strength of Fields
In a prose-poem meditation on fishing, “Pursuing the Grey Soul” (1978),
Dickey characterizes the sea as an otherworldly setting that nourishes man’s
“wished-for vastness of spirit.” While this and many of his other works focus
on the creek-fed wilderness of Dickey’s youth, the sea remains an important
setting for his explorations of the brutal aspects of nature. Dickey displays
a particular fascination with sharks in such poems as “The Shark at the
Window” (1951), which centers on the image of a shark behind aquarium
glass, and “The Shark’s Parlor” (1965), a humorous, yet stirring, account of a shark-and-fisherman tug-of-war on Cumberland Island, Georgia.
Dickey’s other sea-related poems include “The Ax-God: Sea-Pursuit”
(1978), “Undersea Fragments in Colons” (1979), and “Below the Lighthouse”* (1959).