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

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Recalling James Dickey's Poetry on Veterans Day

As Americans remember the service and sacrifice of military personnel throughout the nation’s history at celebrations or memorial events across the country on this Veterans Day, I’d also like to recall the war poetry of James Dickey, whose engaging work unfortunately may have faded from the memories of many in recent decades. In past articles I have spoken of my admiration for various poems by Dickey: I specifically commented upon “Sleeping Out at Easter” and “The Firebombing.” I also chronicled my own observations of James Dickey when he and I once shared a publication party at the Gotham Book Mart for our volumes of poetry published by BOA Editions.

When reflecting upon “The Firebombing,” I offered that Dickey may have “written more powerful poems about World War II than any other American poet.” Among those persuasive works by James Dickey responding to incidents experienced during combat, readers will find “Drinking from a Helmet,” which was included in Helmets, published by Wesleyan University Press in 1964.

The poet, an aviator during World War II, described in Self-Interviews (Dell, 1970), a collection of personal opinions and assessments, his intentions when composing “Drinking from a Helmet”:

I don’t think I wrote anything in Helmets about flying. I wrote about the war from the standpoint of the infantry where you have a much closer intimacy with what happens to the people in a war. For example, “Drinking from a Helmet” deals with being in the center of action, between the enemy and the graveyard. The incident occurred on Okinawa where we were fighting on Coral Ridge and the graves registration people were about two hundred yards in the rear laying out a cemetery that the fellows fighting up on the ridge would soon be occupying. This was one of the weirdest sights I ever saw. I wanted to write at least one poem about the kind of physical involvement istead of using the terrific and terrifying detachment of the combat aviator—I later wrote about that subject in a poem called “The Firebombing.”

Later in the same volume, Dickey expanded upon his thoughts about the difficult conditions and emotional stress endured by soldiers in a combat zone, as he explained his perceptions that shaped the writing of “Drinking from a Helmet”:

In World War II I was in some awfully harrowing action in the Pacific, and in some places I didn’t think it would be possible to survive at all. The result is that now, far removed from those scenes, places, and events, I view existence pretty much from the standpoint of a survivor—sort of like a perpetual convalescent. Someone wrote an article on me once which was called, “James Dickey, the Grateful Survivor,” and I can very well affirm that this is my attitude. It’s really the only personal philosophical implication of the war that I can think of, although there doubtless are a good many others I’m not aware of consciously.

I think physical courage is a very, very great thing, though. I’ve always thought so. Injuries are terrible. Anyone who will stand up to possible injury, either to help someone else or to perform some kind of mission is a great man to me. I feel very much as Malraux does or Antoine de St. Exupéry did. I’m not a worshiper of duty in the way that St. Exupéry was at all, but I very much admire dependability, which involves some degree of courage.

I’ve already said something about “Drinking from a Helmet,” a poem about being in war and close to destruction. The poem deals with a boy’s first inkling that his attitude is going to be that of a grateful survivor if he survives this day. He’s drinking water and identifying with the soldiers lying in the graveyard who have not been as lucky as he. He dedicates himself to survival and to looking up the brother of the dead soldier whose last thought he inherited by drinking from the dead man’s helmet and putting it on afterwards.

Dickey’s ambitious poem, “Drinking from a Helmet,” is written in nineteen numbered sections. I present below a sampling from the work, displaying the first four parts and the last four parts:



I climbed out, tired of waiting
For my foxhole to turn in the earth
On its side or its back for a grave,
And got in line
Somewhere in the roaring of dust.
Every tree on the island was nowhere,
Blasted away.


In the middle of combat, a graveyard
Was advancing after the troops
With laths and balls of string;
Grass already tinged it with order.
Between the new graves and the foxholes
A green water-truck stalled out.
I moved up on it, behind
The hill that cut off the firing.


My turn, and I shoved forward
A helmet I picked from the ground,
Not daring to take mine off
Where somebody else may have come
Loose from the steel of his head.


Keeping the foxhole doubled
In my body and begging
For water, safety, and air,
I drew water out of the truckside
As if dreaming the helmet full.
In my hand, the sun
Came on a featherly light.

* * *


Shining, I picked up my carbine and said.
I threw my old helmet down
And put the wet one on.
Warmed water ran over my face.
My last thought changed, and I knew
I inherited one of the dead.


I saw tremendous trees
That would grow on the sun if they could,
Towering. I saw a fence
And two boys facing each other,
Quietly talking,
Looking in at the gigantic redwoods,
The rings in the trunks turning slowly
To raise up stupendous green.
They went away, one turning
The wheels of a blue bicycle,
The smaller one curled catercornered
In the handlebar basket.


I would survive and go there,
Stepping off the train in a helmet
That held a man’s last thought,
Which showed him his older brother
Showing him trees.
I would ride through all
California upon two wheels
Until I came to the white
Dirt road where they had been,
Hoping to meet his blond brother,
And to walk with him into the wood
Until we were lost,
Then take off the helmet
And tell him where I had stood,
What poured, what spilled, what swallowed:


And tell him I was the man.

—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: ‘Sleeping Out at Easter,’” “James Dickey’s Last Lecture: What It Means to Be a Poet,” and “James Dickey: ‘The Firebombing.’”


Christopher Dickey said...

Thank you, Edward, for the several perceptive and persuasive notes and essays you have written about my father's poetry.

Joyce Pair said...

Thanks very much for remembering Jim's war poetry today. As founding editor of James Dickey Newsletter and author of articles on his three post- WWII novels, I value your keeping him in the public consciousness as the valiant young man of the air that he was - and the poet he became.

Marinela said...

Great poems.

dves said...

I want a copy of this. Thanks.

Maureen said...

Wonderful post. Thank you for making your excellent commentary available.

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