I got to meet James Dickey about 20 years ago when he spoke at Miami-Dade Community College. Dickey is best known for writing Deliverance. At his presentation, I picked up a copy of Buckdancer’s Choice, since I had heard Dickey was also an accomplished poet. After 20 years, I decided to reread this book.
The poems in this book depict the experience of living in the south and paint a picture of the decay associated with living there. Having lived in Western North Carolina for the past 10 years, I have seen this decay first hand, so I was able to relate to the poems on a level that I could not as a resident of sunny Miami.
A couple of passages really spoke to me. The first is from a poem entitled “The Celebration” which captures the experience of being at a fair or carnival.
I ambled along in that crowd
Between the gambling wheels
At carnival time with the others
Where the dodgem cars shuddered, sparking
On grillwire, each in his vehicle half
In control, half helplessly power-mad
As he was in the traffic that brought him here.
The second passage of note for me is from “Sled Burial, Dream Ceremony” since it truly captures the essence of the death of the old south.
… The train stops
In a small furry village, and men in flap-eared caps
And others with women’s scarves tied around their heads
And business hats over those, unload him,
And one of them reaches inside the coffin and places
The southerner’s hand at the center
Of his dead breast.
If you enjoy southern literature, or just like poetry in general, then you should take the time to read this short collection of works. It’s accessible, well written, and offers a glimpse into a way of life that many people have not experienced.