James Dickey remains one of the most dynamic personalities in the world of 20th-century literature. And Crux: The Letters of James Dickey should do very little to damage that reputation. Amassed by his literary executor and close friend of 20 odd years, Matthew Bruccoli, along with Judith Baughman, these letters comprise over five decades of correspondence to all sorts of folk: family, early poetic and academic influences, other poets, students, agents, editors, and fans. In these letters we glimpse the remarkable construction of an artist's life, one that includes aesthetic concerns, professional demands, and relationships literary and otherwise.
The careful selection (these letters make up about 20 percent of Dickey's correspondence) and chronological presentation enable the reader to chart Dickey's early stirrings and subsequent explosion onto the American cultural landscape. However, while we note this emergence, we also recognize a commitment to language and experience that is constant. Similarly, we note Dickey's seemingly boundless humanity, charted in his forthright and personable responses to younger poets, former students, and inquisitive fans. While this view into Dickey's personality may prove enlightening and entertaining to casual readers, the book will certainly become an indispensable resource for anyone interested in the academic dialoguesurrounding the poet's life and work. Through the '60s and '70s, these letters document Dickey's private passions and anxieties concerning posterity and the attendant literary infighting. In particular, his correspondence with the poet James Wright is perhaps the most significant body of work dealing with Dickey's ill-fated relationship with Robert Bly.
Ultimately, the thing for which we should value this book most is the simple fact that it exists. Letter writing is surely a dying art, lost on recent generations of electronic communicators. When we read this encompassing volume, we are confronted with the structural, linguistic, and rhetorical properties of composition. These letters are themselves works of art that merit close reading, works of art that enable us to come nearer to the genius of James Dickey. ¦ Alex Richardson is a Ph.
D. student at the University of Southern Mississippi.