The Works of James Dickey and John Ciardi Essay

The Works of James Dickey and John Ciardi Essay

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War literature derives much of its impact from the fact that many readers will never have (and are never likely to) experienced the subject matter themselves. It has been postulated that poets such as Ciardi have been damaged psychologically by what they have seen and felt. In his case much of the evidence for this lies in his abandonment of his war diary, leaving it unfinished. Readers derive meaning from the unwritten words and see it as evidence of the concept that war is an exclusive experience, only comprehensible by those that have participated in combat. If one is to accept such a statement, one is likely to discover difficulty in the war literature and poetry of James Dickey, a man that has created a fiction around his war experience that was utterly convincing to his readers and friends. In his biography, The World as a Lie, Henry Hart notes the extent of his deception;
‘Even a well-known Dickey scholar like Richard Calhoun could affirm in a standard critical study: “Dickey was in the Air Force from 1942 to 1946, heavily involved in combat, flying nearly one hundred combat missions in the Pacific campaign in the Philippines, at Okinawa, and participating in the bombing of major Japanese cities”’
This of a man whose discharge sheet tells a remarkably different story; That he was a ‘radar observer’ with a total of thirty-eight missions served between January 1945 and the end of the war. Lorrie Goldensohn analyses him succinctly as one ‘who lied about every possible aspect of his wartime career as a pilot and clung to the grandeurs of participating in wartime rituals of masculinity’. Not, then, a man who commands respect in war literature circles. The assumption of many is that war experience cannot be faked, that even ...

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...d prose concerning the Second World and other wars, the concept that the enemy army is composed of real people just like the people that compose the army of which one is a member, just as intelligent and moral, indistinguishable without uniforms. His war poetry and literature, then, is not invalid but unenlightened due to his seemingly compulsive lies about his role in it.

Ciardi, John. Saipan (University of Arkansas Press, 1988)

Dickey, James Crux: The Letters of James Dickey, Edited by Bruccoli, Matthew J. and Baughman, Judith S. (Random House, 1999)

Dickey, James. To the White Sea (Scribner, 2002)

Hart, Henry. The World as a Lie: James Dickey (Picador USA, 2000)

Goldensohn, Lorrie. Dismantling Glory: Twentieth-Century Soldier Poetry (Columbia University Press, 2003)

Shapiro, Harvey. Poets of World War II (The Library of America, 2003)

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