Dickey, Gray, and Lanyer in Poetry Criticism 176

Dickey, Gray, and Lanyer in Poetry Criticism 176

Poetry Criticism, Volume 176, includes entries on James Dickey, Poetry Consultant to the Librarian of Congress and author of Deliverance; Australian poet Robert Gray, whose eco-political poetry is influenced by Eastern religious thought; and Aemilia Lanyer, regarded as the first woman poet who wrote in English for publication. Below are excerpts to each entry.

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James Dickey

1923-1997

(The following is an excerpt. To read more about Dickey, see Poetry Criticism, Volume 176)

In over a dozen volumes of poetry he wrote over the course of a career that lasted almost four decades, James Dickey used the ordinary and mundane as starting points for metaphysical ruminations on death, violence, and nature. Often populated by football players, pilots, hunters, and other traditionally masculine figures, Dickey’s work in the 1950s and 1960s combined elements of romanticism and naturalism to raise questions about identity and the place of humanity in the natural world. Dickey’s poetic narratives focus on speakers wrestling with their pasts and attempting to find solace in their futures. His early work was typically presented in an incantatory style of anapestic lines and clear, straightforward verse.

After the success of his debut novel, Deliverance (1970), Dickey began to focus more on language in his poetry, valuing experimental syntax over narrative. His critical reputation waned in the following decades, a development that Dickey scholars have frequently tried to reconcile with his earlier accomplishments. Critics have also emphasized his use of characters and voices, his relationship to the American South, and the attempts at transcendence that distinguish his strongest poems.

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Robert Gray

1945-

(The following is an excerpt. To read more about Gray, see Poetry Criticism, Volume 176)

Robert Gray is known for lyrics and meditative poems that feature the landscape of New South Wales, Australia. Written mostly in free verse and simple syntax, his poems employ sophisticated, imagistic descriptions to evoke sensory awareness and to convey complex emotions and philosophical ideas. Often based on his experiences of the northern coast of New South Wales, many of Gray’s poems engage with ecological and political issues relevant to the area. Other poems explore his relationships with his parents and aspects of Eastern religions—particularly Ch’an Buddhism, which is an important model for Gray’s understanding of perception and language. Despite his renown and influence in Australia, Gray remains little known outside of his native country.

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Aemilia Lanyer

1569-1645

Portrait of Aemilia Lanyer by Nicholas Hilliard, circa 1590. Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons.

Portrait of Aemilia Lanyer by Nicholas Hilliard, circa 1590. Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons.

(The following is an excerpt. To read more about Lanyer, see Poetry Criticism, Volume 176)

Aemilia Lanyer is generally considered the first woman to compose an English-language poetry collection with the intention of publishing it and attracting patronage. Her only known work, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (1611; Hail, God, King of the Jews), is dedicated to a group of learned noblewomen to whom Lanyer appealed for support. The collection’s concluding poem, “The Description of Cooke-ham,” is believed to be among the first published examples of the country-house poem, a form that pays tribute to a patron or friend by immortalizing his or her country estate. Lanyer’s work was ignored by contemporary critics and quickly faded into obscurity, but it was rediscovered in the late 1970s when scholar A. L. Rowse (1978; see Further Reading) identified Lanyer as the “dark lady” of William Shakespeare’s sonnets. Although Rowse’s theory has been discredited, it gave rise to a growing body of criticism on Lanyer’s importance in Jacobean and women’s literature. Modern scholars have paid particular attention to Lanyer’s focus on women in her treatment of Scripture, her identification of feminine virtues with Christ’s virtues, and her bold authorial persona.

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