Word Cloud Resized


On Friday, July 24, 2015, my very first “Word Cloud” appeared at Flowers for Socrates. There’s been another one every Friday since, so I’ve now posted 52 profiles at this site.

The first poet I wrote about was James Dickey.  I didn’t know how to use most of the World Press layout options (something I’m still learning), so I kept it simple.
Black ink on white background, not many visual enhancements – and short.

I wondered if there were any readers out there who would be willing to look at more than one poem.

So a virtual Toast and a THANK YOU to everybody who viewed “Word Cloud” during this first year, especially those of you who took the time to click “Like” or make a comment.

THANK YOU to all of you who tuned in later, connected with what you read, then checked out some of my earlier posts.

And a special THANK YOU if you’ve come back on Fridays for more.

At the end of this post, you’ll see the bibliography for James Dickey’s many books of poetry — I really didn’t do his work justice last year.

Here then are a few more of his poems that I especially like:

marble quarry

In the Marble Quarry

Beginning to dangle beneath
The wind that blows from the undermined wood,
I feel the great pulley grind,
The thread I cling to lengthen
And let me soaring and spinning down into marble,
Hooked and weightlessly happy

Where the squared sun shines
Back equally from all four sides, out of stone
And years of dazzling labor,

To land at last among men
Who cut with power saws a Parian whiteness
And, chewing slow tobacco,

Their eyebrows like frost,
Shunt house-sized blocks and lash them to cables
And send them heavenward

Into small-town banks,
Into the columns and statues of government buildings,
But mostly graves.

I mount my monument and rise
Slowly and spinningly from the white-gloved men
Toward the hewn sky

Out of the basement of light,
Sadly, lifted through time’s blinding layers
On perhaps my tombstone

In which the original shape
Michelangelo believed was in every rock upon earth
Is heavily stirring,

Surprised to be an angel,
To be waked in North Georgia by the ponderous play
Of men with ten-ton blocks

But no more surprised than I
To feel sadness fall off as though I myself
Were rising from stone

Held by a thread in midair,
Badly cut, local-looking, and totally uninspired,
Not a masterwork

Or even worth seeing at all
But the spirit of this place just the same,
Felt here as joy.

darien-bridge-by jennifer-schafer

At Darien Bridge

The sea here used to look
As if many convicts had built it,

Standing deep in their ankle chains,
Ankle-deep in the water, to smite

The land and break it down to salt.
I was in this bog as a child

When they were all working all day
To drive the pilings down.

I thought I saw the still sun
Strike the side of a hammer in flight

And from it a sea bird be born
To take off over the marshes.

As the gray climbs the side of my head
And cuts my brain off from the world,

I walk and wish mainly for birds,
For the one bird no one has looked for

To spring again from a flash
Of metal, perhaps from the scratched

Wedding band on my ring finger.
Recalling the chains of their feet,

I stand and look out over grasses
At the bridge they built, long abandoned,

Breaking down into water at last,
And long, like them, for freedom

Or death, or to believe again
That they worked on the ocean to give it

The unchanging, hopeless look
Out of which all miracles leap.

Buckdancer’s Choice

So I would hear out those lungs,
The air split into nine levels,
Some gift of tongues of the whistler

In the invalid’s bed: my mother,
Warbling all day to herself
The thousand variations of one song;

It is called Buckdancer’s Choice.
For years, they have all been dying
Out, the classic buck-and-wing men

Of traveling minstrel shows;
With them also an old woman
Was dying of breathless angina,

Yet still found breath enough
To whistle up in my head
A sight like a one-man band,

Freed black, with cymbals at heel,
An ex-slave who thrivingly danced
To the ring of his own clashing light

Through the thousand variations of one song
All day to my mother’s prone music,
The invalid’s warbler’s note,

While I crept close to the wall
Sock-footed, to hear the sounds alter,
Her tongue like a mockingbird’s break

Through stratum after stratum of a tone
Proclaiming what choices there are
For the last dancers of their kind,

For ill women and for all slaves
Of death, and children enchanted at walls
With a brass-beating glow underfoot,

Not dancing but nearly risen
Through barnlike, theatrelike houses
On the wings of the buck and wing.

Wolverine in winter

For the Last Wolverine

 They will soon be down

To one, but he still will be
For a little while    still will be stopping

The flakes in the air with a look,
Surrounding himself with the silence
Of whitening snarls. Let him eat
The last red meal of the condemned

To extinction, tearing the guts

From an elk. Yet that is not enough
For me. I would have him eat

The heart, and from it, have an idea
Stream into his gnarling head
That he no longer has a thing
To lose, and so can walk

Out into the open, in the full

Pale of the sub-Arctic sun
Where a single spruce tree is dying

Higher and higher. Let him climb it
With all his meanness and strength.
Lord, we have come to the end
Of this kind of vision of heaven,

As the sky breaks open

Its fans around him and shimmers
And into its northern gates he rises

Snarling    complete    in the joy of a weasel
With an elk’s horned heart in his stomach
Looking straight into the eternal
Blue, where he hauls his kind. I would have it all

My way: at the top of that tree I place

The New World’s last eagle
Hunched in mangy feathers    giving

Up on the theory of flight.
Dear God of the wildness of poetry, let them mate
To the death in the rotten branches,
Let the tree sway and burst into flame

And mingle them, crackling with feathers,

In crownfire. Let something come
Of it    something gigantic    legendary

Rise beyond reason over hills
Of ice    screaming    that it cannot die,
That it has come back, this time
On wings, and will spare no earthly thing:

That it will hover, made purely of northern

Lights, at dusk    and fall
On men building roads: will perch

On the moose’s horn like a falcon
Riding into battle    into holy war against
Screaming railroad crews: will pull
Whole traplines like fibres from the snow

In the long-jawed night of fur trappers.

But, small, filthy, unwinged,
You will soon be crouching

Alone, with maybe some dim racial notion
Of being the last, but none of how much
Your unnoticed going will mean:
How much the timid poem needs

The mindless explosion of your rage,

The glutton’s internal fire    the elk’s
Heart in the belly, sprouting wings,

The pact of the “blind swallowing
Thing,” with himself, to eat
The world, and not to be driven off it
Until it is gone, even if it takes

Forever. I take you as you are

And make of you what I will,
Skunk-bear, carcajoy, bloodthirsty

Lord, let me die    but not die

James L. Dickey (1923–1997)

James Dickey

There’s a problem when you try to write about James Dickey’s life. Which James Dickey do you talk about? The Gifted Writer? The Drunk? The Myth of Himself he worked so hard to make the World believe?

Mark Twain said, “Man will do many things to get himself loved, he will do all things to get himself envied.”

Biographer Henry Hart spent eight painstaking years delving into what was true about James Dickey, what was exaggerated, and what was completely untrue. Then he wrote an 832 page biography called James Dickey: The World as a Lie. 

James Dickey has often been compared to Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. They were all hard-drinking self-aggrandizers.

Hemingway did do some of the things he said he did, even if he put them in a highly-glossy spotlight, and sluffed off some of the less-than-flattering details. When he could no longer live up to the image he built, he shot himself.

Faulkner tried to live as a mythic Antebellum Southern Gentleman, but without the financial wherewithal to maintain it. He died of a heart attack after he checked into a sanitorium to dry out.

Dickey fabricated major pieces of his life to create that swaggering Southern Man’s Man persona — a combination Star Athlete-Great White Hunter-Bravura Cocksman-Heroic Warrior under which he hid in plain sight. He lied about his athletic ability and his war record. He greatly overstated his sexual virtuosity. He had no hunting experience with a bow, and quite possibly not with any other weapon either.

What kept him from being just a whiskey-soaked Good Ole Boy swapping lies on a Saturday night was his talent. The saddest thing I can say about James Dickey is that he drank that talent to death a couple of decades before he actually died.

Mark Twain also said, “Biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man. The biography of the man himself cannot be written.”

James Dickey was truthful when he was asked if he thought his work would be remembered: “You never know that. I don’t know it; Robert Lowell doesn’t know it; John Berryman didn’t know it; and Shakespeare probably didn’t know it. There’s never any final certainty about what you do. Your opinion of your own work fluctuates wildly.”

Fortunately for him — and for us — his words have endured.




  • Into the Stone, and Other Poems, Scribner, 1960.
  • Two Poems of the Air, Centicore Press, 1964.
  • Buckdancer’s Choice, Wesleyan University Press, 1965.
  • Poems, 1957-1967, Wesleyan University Press, 1968.
  • The Eye-Beaters, Blood, Victory, Madness, Buckhead, and Mercy, Doubleday, 1970.
  • Exchanges, Bruccoli Clark, 1971.
  • The Zodiac, Doubleday, 1976.
  • The Strength of Fields, Bruccoli Clark, 1977.
  • Tucky the Hunter (for children), Crown, 1978.
  • The Strength of Fields, Doubleday, 1979.
  • Head Deep in Strange Sounds: Improvisations from the UnEnglish, Palaemon Press, 1979.
  • Scion, Deerfield Press, 1980.
  • The Early Motion: “Drowning with Others”/ “Helmets,” (1960s works republished together) Wesleyan University Press, 1981.
  • Falling, May Day Sermon, and Other Poems, Wesleyan University Press, 1981.
  • Puella, Doubleday, 1982.
  • Veteran Birth: The Gadfly Poems, 1947-1949, Palaemon Press, 1983.
  • Bronwen, the Traw, and the Shape Shifter: A Poem in Four Parts(for children), illustrations by Richard Jesse Watson, Harcourt, 1986.
  • The Whole Motion: Collected Poems, 1945-1992, Wesleyan University Press, 1992.
  • James Dickey: The Selected Poems, edited and introduced by Robert Kirschten, University Press of New England, 1998.


  • James Dickey: The World as a Lie, © 2001 by Henry Hart, Picador/St. Martin’s Press
  • Atlantic Review by Peter Davison of Summer of Deliverance: A Memoir of Father and Son, by Christopher Dickey — http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1998/08/the-burden-of-james-dickey/377173/
  • “Liar, Liar Pants on Fire”: Some Notes on the Life and Art of the Late James Dickey by George Garrett  — http://www.vqronline.org/essay/%E2%80%9Cliar-liar-pants-fire%E2%80%9D-some-notes-life-and-art-late-james-dickey

Please note: The following retrospectives on James Dickey were written prior to the release of Henry Hart’s biography, which is now considered the primary source.

  • Poetry Foundation  — http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/james-l-dickey
  •  NYTimes obituary— https://www.nytimes.com/books/98/08/30/specials/dickey-obit.html

The first Word Cloud: MEMORABLE


  • Marble Quarry
  • The Darien Bridge in Georgia – photograph by Jennifer Schafer
  • Wolverine in winter
  • James Dickey

Word Cloud photo by Larry Cloud

About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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