Mr. Dickey, we’re revoking your poetic license

“It was in sitting for the composition of this aluminum life mask [shown on the magazine’s cover] that poet James Dickey was temporarily blinded. Sculptor William Dunlap, artist in residence at Appalachian State University, was forming the plaster cast when calcium seeped through to Mr. Dickey’s eyes and produced an alkaline burn that scalded the corneas. The poet was raced from Boone, North Carolina, to Johnson City, Tennessee, for medical treatment that saved his vision.

“The experience, which left him sightless for several hours, contributed to the store of feeling from which the poet’s second novel [‘Alnilam’] proceeds.”

— From Esquire magazine, February 1976

“Esquire exaggerated the incident…. Dunlap immediately drove Dickey to the emergency room of the local hospital, where the attending physician allayed Dickey’s fears of blindness. Because Dickey continued to worry, however, Dunlap subsequently drove him to an eye clinic, which determined that his eyes had recovered….

“As with [his false claim of having diabetes] Dickey embellished his imagined blindness, using the uncertainty of his blurred vision…  to bring heightened attention to himself.”

— From “The One Voice of James Dickey: His Letters and Life, 1970-1997” (2005), edited with commentary by Gordon Van Ness

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