Photographers Unknown, The Silent Traffic of Bystanders
Henry went over the edge of the bridge first; he always did.
Then Mr. Interlocutor and Mr. Bones, then the blackface
with their tambourines. You have to empty out
all the contents before the person himself dies.
The beard went over the edge, and Stephen Crane,
and the never-completed scholarly work on Shakespeare,
and faculty wives, and a sheaf of recovery wards
white-tiled in the blue shadow of the little hours.
He loosened his necktie and the recurrent dream
of walking out under water to the destined island.
His mother went over in pearls; his father went over.
His real father went over, whoever his father was.
He thought to go over with someone, hand in hand
with perhaps Mistress Bradstreet, but someone always
The news of his death preceded him. It hit the water
with a fat splash and the target twanged.
When there was nothing to see with or hear with, the
of bystanders wrapped in snow, his only body
let itself loose, turned and waved before it went over
to what it could never understand as being the human
William Dickey, The Death of John Berryman, January 1996
Born in Bellingham, Washington in December of 1928, William Hobart Dickey was an American poet and educator. While his talent was known to critics, Dickey worked on his poetry without actively promoting it and, thus, was largely unknown to the general public. In his work, he often used abstract ideas that contained both insight and feeling. Dickey expressed his personal visions through poetry and gave preceptive observations on life that spoke to his readers.
William Dickey attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon where he earned his Bachelor of Arts, with a novel as his thesis, in 1951. With an awarded Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, Dickey earned his Master of Arts in 1955 at Harvard University and his Master of Fine Arts at the University of Iowa in 1956. As a Fulbright scholar, he studied from 1959 to 1960 at the University of Oxford’s Jesus College.
Dickey studied at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop under poet John Berryman, a major figure in American poetry in the latter half of the century and a key figure in Confessional Poetry, a form which focused on extreme moments of individual experience. Barrymore, whose childhood was shaken by the suicide death of his father, developed his own style and is best known for his 1964 “The Dream Songs”, short lyric poems of eighteen lines in three stanzas. Dickey studied in Barrymore’s intense poetry workshop with such poets as Henri Coulette, Donald Justice, Jane Cooper, and Robert Dana.
In 1959, William Dickey published his first volume of poetry, “Of the Festivity”, a balanced collection of humorous and serious works expressing keen observations on life. Selected by scholars as being culturally important, “Of the Festivity” was chosen by Oxford’s Professor of Poetry William Hugh Auden as the winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition. In his 1971 volume “More Under Saturn”, Dickey wrote darker toned poems with an added degree of cynicism to their humor. For this collection, he won a 1972 silver medal from the Commonwealth Club of California.
Dickey’s sixth volume of work “The Rainbow Grocery” was also published in 1971. It later received the Juniper Prize from the University of Massachusetts Press in 1978. The poems in this volume, which achieved a balance between humor and seriousness, were more loosely constructed, more sexual, and more frenzied than the poems in “Of the Festivity”. Dickey published seven more volumes of poetry. Among these are the 1981 “The Sacrifice Consenting”, “Brief Lives” and “The King of the Golden River”, both published in 1985, the 1994 “In the Dreaming”, and his last volume, the posthumously published 1996 “The Education of Desire”.
William Dickey, after receiving his Masters at the University of Iowa, taught English at Cornell University from 1956 to 1959. After returning from Oxford in 1960, he was an assistant professor of English at Dennison University in Granville, Ohio until 1962. At which time, Dickey joined San Francisco State University’s faculty as a Professor of English and Creative Writing and taught until his 1991 retirement. In 1988, he was the editor of the tenth-anniversary edition of the established literary journal “New England Review and Bread Loaf Quarterly”. In 1990, the journal returned to its original 1978 name “New England Review”.
Dickey lived in San Francisco with life-partner Leonard Sanazaro, a poet and teacher of English and Creative Writing at San Francisco’s City College. Due to complications from a series of HIV-related surgeries, William Hobart Dickey died at the age of sixty-five at San Francisco’s Kaiser Hospital in May of 1994.
Notes: William Dickey’s poem “The Death of John Berryman”, an elegy to his former professor, was completed shortly before Dickey’s death. It was published posthumously in the January 1996 issue of “Poetry” and in the 1997 anthology “The Best American Poetry”.
Living as a gay man in San Francisco during the AIDS epidemic, William Dickey used the Hypercard program on his first Macintosh to produce a total of fourteen “Hyperpoems”, unique documents of gay life in San Francisco during the epidemic. Writer Matthew Kirscherbaum, with the assistance of Dickey’s literary executor Susan Tracz, extracted those files and added them to the Internet Archive. Organized into two volumes, they can be found at: https://archive.org/details/william_dickey_hyperpoems_volume_1 https://archive.org/details/william_dickey_hyperpoems_volume_2