Friday, 5 July 2013

Apollo Calls

Joshua Mehigan recounts his phone call from James Dickey:
We commiserated about all the flat language in contemporary poetry and the assumption that writing lyric poems is a question primarily of inspiration. He surprised me by complaining that almost no one knew anything about traditional technique anymore, and that most who did had nothing to say. He mainly wanted to talk about his generation, but he began with me, since of course I’d included a couple of poems with my letter. His praise was brazenly excessive, but also irresistible. He invited me to study at the University of South Carolina. Released by now from the exigencies of reality, I answered earnestly that I would. I felt like one of the shaky old women who has just won a million dollars in the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes. Then, before the flood of adrenaline could abate, he moved on to the poets of  his generation—managing, through his dim assessment of a dozen great mid-century poets, to put any praise of me into serious question. After a while, I realized that the truth might matter less than the glee of competitive sniping. He compared Richard Wilbur to a southern girl “who moved up north for school and someone said, ‘Don’t ever lose that accent!’ and she didn’t.” He allowed that Sylvia Plath had written good poems but referred to her as “the Judy Garland of American Poetry.” He admitted that James Merrill was an accomplished poet but added that he was also damagingly overrated by “the New York Homosexual Mafia.” He paused. “You’re not a homosexual, are you, Joshua?”

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