The Sins of the Father
(November 17, 2004)


by Dede Norungolo

Bronwen Dickey grew up with two older brothers in the current of James Dickey's widely read novel Deliverance. Despite the popularity of this fictional account of a turbulent river outing, it is somewhat surprising that her father's poetry has really churned up her sentiments.

Recently, the youngest of three siblings joined her brothers, Christopher and Kevin for "A James Dickey Celebration" at Clemson University. While each took part in the two-day event, it was Bronwen who delivered The Truth as a 'Lie': James Dickey and the Spirit of Poetic Revelation, a rally against Henry Hart's biography, James Dickey: The World as a Lie.

Released in 2000, Hart's book presented a harsh view of Dickey based on interviews and letters. The author's book yields no analysis regarding the former Clemson University athlete's literary contributions and amounted to a personal assault on the Southern writer.

Bronwen's counter The Truth as a 'Lie'... will be published in its entirety in the Spring 2005 edition of Clemson University's The South Carolina Review. The North Carolina resident is eager to discuss her father's poetry with its depth and flow.

In the piece, as it was presented to an audience in October, Bronwen touched on the subject of "the poet as a liar" and how that specifically relates to her father. She acknowledged that her dad, who was 58 at the time of her birth, "was known for telling some real whoppers about his personal history." However, Bronwen does not feel that should be the focus of anyone's analytical work.

"None of that (personal history) really matters," she said, "because he was a poet. Poets are the greatest, most necessary kind of 'liars'... they give us the 'lies' - metaphors, symbols, myths, archetypes - that transform the world and our relationship to it."

The young woman, who hopes to share her father's work with a new generation through the use of electronic media, wants Dickey's work to take a more prominent place in mainstream culture.

"He had this unbelievable energy that I know could really turn people on to poetry," Bronwen said. "I would like to see him anthologized more; I would like to see his readings released on CD; and, of course, I would love to see either a biopic or documentary made about his life. Of course, the people who control how all those things get done can be tricky to convince."

She certainly doesn't feel her father's novels should be neglected "out of intellectual snobbery" because they are "rock-solid" in their own right. Indeed, she said, adventure stories as gripping as Deliverance are rare these days and often do not maintain the same level of lyricism.

"Dad considered himself a poet more than a novelist, but he realized both forms of literary creation flow from the same spiritual spring," she said during a recent interview. "He was primarily preoccupied with creative possibilities, in whatever form they happened to take. As a reader of literature, I much prefer his poetry to his fiction because I see so many more dimensions of 'him' in it. The life experiences reflected in his poetry are so vast that it gives me greater insight into his consciousness."

Just as river enthusiasts continue to transcend the Chattooga River, Dickey maneuvered between the poetry and novel fords with ease "despite the creative split" between the genres, said Bronwen. "I want readers and students to see my feather's work as what I know it to be from my own experience: the kind of literature you can read on any level and always be engrossed in it and changed by it," Dickey's daughter said. "If you are the most erudite literary critic, you can read James Dickey as one of your kind. If you are a jock, you can experience a kinship with James Dickey, as well. And of course, there are many layers in between."

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