A really good poet, wrote James Dickey, is like an engine with the governor off. And it’s no good for people to say that life should not mean that much to a poet. The really good poet, said Dickey, has no choice; that’s the way he is (3)”.
I was curious about his reference to Dickey and the “engine with the governor off” because I don’t see feeling life this intensely as healthy. At least not for me. I become too lost, too overwhelmed and too much for myself and the people I love. I looked up the phrase, and found two instances of Dickey using it. In the first, found in Sorties, Dickey reflects on his writing process. In the second, found in Self-Interviews, he discusses James Agee.
“…working like an engine with the governor off it, not only during the conscious portions of the day, but during sleep as well…Twenty-four hours a day the mind is associating so quickly, ideas are occurring and recurring so frequently, things are cross-fertilizing each other in such an amazing variety of ways, that the human body cannot really bear up under the associations and the thought processes of a “normal” mind. But there is nothing more exhilarating or exciting. It is the thing that makes middle age worth it all, for, as the result of long discipline, I know what I am doing, and I know, pretty well, what to do with what my mind gives me. Not with absolute certainty; that of course impossible. But with a fair degree of predictability. And who on earth ever has that, besides artists?”
“he did have this quality of complete participation, of commitment of the self to whatever it was he contemplated. I think this commitment is tremendously important to a writer. It’s because of that writers are so unstable. Emotionally at least, a really good poet is like an engine with the governor off. It’s no good for people to say that life shouldn’t mean that much to a poet. By god, it does mean that much, and people will just have to accept it. The really good poet has no choice; that’s the way he is.”