Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Sunday, April 12, 2009

James Dickey: "Sleeping Out at Easter"

When James Dickey introduced his first volume of poetry, Into the Stone (1960), he opened the collection with “Sleeping Out at Easter,” a poem he hoped would set a tone for those to follow. Dickey reported in his book, Self-Interviews (1970): “While I was writing Into the Stone, I was very much interested in experimenting with verse forms. I’ve always been a great admirer of Hardy and tried to take a lesson from him in inventing.” In “Sleeping Out at Easter,” Dickey tested different approaches to the poem and arrived at a discovery of form complementing content: “Gradually, over a period of several weeks, I worked on it, italicized the refrain, tried a few other things, and it came out the way it is. It seemed to me to be quite a lucid poem—at least more lucid than what I had written up to that time—and at the same time mysterious. On the one hand, the story seems very clear. It’s just about a man sleeping in back of his house and becoming another person on Easter through the twin influences of the Easter ritual and of nature itself. His rebirth is symbolized by nothing more or less than waking up in a strange place which is near a familiar place.”

Drafts of the poem reveal the method by which Dickey established the persona, point of view, and process of discovery about details in the poem. For instance, the earliest version carries a different title, “Sleeping Out in June,” which probably reflects the actual timing of the event initiating his writing of the piece. However, after including language indicating a spring incident, Dickey changed the title to “Sleeping Out in April.” But by the final drafts, where Dickey had presented particulars suggesting religious allusions and symbolism, the title became “Sleeping Out at Easter.” In his biography of the poet, James Dickey: The World as a Lie (2000), Henry Hart comments: “The poem that begins Into the Stone, ‘Sleeping Out at Easter,’ typifies Dickey’s ritual and mythic approach to the world. Significantly, the narrator does not go to church on Easter Sunday to pay homage to the resurrection of the crucified Christ. Like Wallace Stevens’s persona in ‘Sunday Morning,’ he conducts his own service on his own turf and in his own way. Having camped out in an army blanket, he groggily wakes on Easter morning believing that he is ritually reenacting Christ’s resurrection and, in turn, all renewals of life from death.”

Dickey described the activity inspiring the poem’s composition: “In the spring I did sleep out in a sleeping bag in a little pine grove behind my suburban house when I was in the advertising business in Atlanta. But I didn’t wake up feeling that I was Christ. That’s something I made up. Still. reading the poem again, I feel that I should have awakened on Easter thinking I was Christ, in the same sense that every man is Christ and Christ is every man, if you’re a believer.” As in a number of other poems by James Dickey, the lines combine a fascination with nature and a respect for religious metaphor. In addition, he mixes an acknowledgment of the spiritual with an emphasis on the physical. As Hart observes: “Dickey sings his worldly hymn, which is as sacred as it is profane.”

On this Easter Sunday, I recommend readers return once more to this poem that began James Dickey’s debut book of poems and announced the beginning of an exciting, sometimes controversial, career for an extraordinary individual and exceptional poet, whose work frequently influenced those among his contemporaries as well as some in ensuing generations.


All dark is now no more.
The forest is drawing a light.
All Presences change into trees.
One eye opens slowly without me.
My sight is the same as the sun’s,
For this is the grave of the king,
When the earth turns, waking a choir.
All dark is now no more.

Birds speak, their voices beyond them.
A light has told them their song.
My animal eyes become human
As the Word rises out of the darkness
Where my right hand, buried beneath me,
Hoveringly tingles, with grasping
The source of all song at the root.
Birds speak, their voices beyond them.

Put down those seeds in your hand.
These trees have not yet been planted.
A light should come round the world,
Yet my army blanket is dark,
That shall sparkle with dew in the sun.
My magical sheperd’s cloak
Is not yet alive on my flesh.
Put down those seeds in your hand.

In your palm is the secret of waking.
Unclasp your purple-nailed fingers
And the woods and the sunlight together
Shall spring, and make good the world.
The sounds in the air shall find bodies,
And a feather shall drift from the pine-top
You shall feel, with your long-buried hand.
In your palm is the secret of waking,

For the king’s grave turns him to light.
A woman shall look through the window
And see me here, huddled and blazing.
My child, mouth open, still sleeping,
Hears the song in the egg of a bird.
The sun shall have told him that song
Of a father returning from darkness,
For the king’s grave turns you to light.

All dark is now no more.
In your palm is the secret of waking.
Put down those seeds in your hand;
All Presences change into trees.
A feather shall drift from the pine-top.

The sun shall have told you this song,
For this is the grave of the king;
For the king’s grave turns you to light.

—James Dickey

Visitors are invited to view other pages at “One Poet’s Notes” with commentary and video concerning the poetry of James Dickey: “James Dickey’s Last Lecture: What It Means to Be a Poet,” and “James Dickey: ‘The Firebombing.’”


Anonymous said...

I like Henry Hart very, very much. But maybe he is a little harsh on Dickey's use of the imagination. Of course Dickey's poems are lies.
My friend, Al Brazelton, to whom Deliverance is dedicated, was given the contract to do the bio originally, but he was too sensitive to write it, as he knew Dickey so well. But he wd not have been concerned with accuracy in the poems.--Myreen Moore Nicholson

Robert Kirschten said...

With all due respect to Myreen Nicholson, I do not like Henry Hart. Nor do I like his biography of Dickey, which strikes me as the spiritual and emotional contradictory of the man who lies behind so many gentle and refreshing lyrics such as "Sleeping Out at Easter." I commend Edward Byrne for reminding us of this sweet poem on Holy Saturday, this time of natural and personal resurrection.