Charles B. Dickson (born Charles Born Dickson, Jr., June 14, 1915, Marietta, Georgia, U.S.A.; died May 12, 1991, Atlanta, Georgia). American newspaper journalist, freelance writer, poet, and haiku poet especially esteemed for his nature haiku of the American South.
LIFE BEFORE HAIKU
Charles Dickson grew up in Marietta, Georgia, where his father owned a grocery store. Dickson was the first in his family to attend college, graduating from the University of Georgia in 1937 with a degree in journalism. It was there, as a senior, that he met his future wife, Virginia Powell. They were married the same year.
Dickson’s first poems, in traditional Western forms, were published in the Atlanta Constitution and Oglethorpe University’s journal Bozart. Out of college, he was hired as a copy editor for the Atlanta Constitution newspaper, where he rose to the position of copy chief. A daughter, Diane, was born to the couple in 1941. A son, Michael, followed in 1944. After initially receiving a deferral, he was eventually drafted into the U.S. Army in 1945. He was en route to Japan when the atomic bombs were dropped, and his troop ship was diverted to Korea. He was discharged from service in 1946.
When he returned to the United States he settled with his family on a farm inherited from his wife’s family in Sylvester, Georgia. Before the war Dickson had published a few short stories in pulp detective magazines such as Dime Detective and Clues. While his wife taught junior high social studies in nearby Albany, he tried his hand at writing full-time, publishing several short stories in Detective Stories Magazine, Frontier Stories, and Dime Mystery Magazine among others. After the pulp-fiction market collapsed, Dickson returned to newspaper work in 1948 as a reporter and later copy editor with the Times-Union in Jacksonville, Florida. In the late 1950s he accepted a job as editor of the boating magazine Outboard. In 1962, after that magazine was sold and had moved its headquarters out of Jacksonville, he and his wife relocated to Nashville, Tennessee, where he took an editorial position with the Nashville Tennessean. In 1964 they moved again, this time to New Orleans where he worked at the New Orleans States-Item and took graduate courses in archaeology and anthropology at Tulane University.
In 1967 Charles and Virginia Dickson moved back to the family farm in Sylvester, Georgia, where he edited a weekly newspaper and Virginia resumed teaching. In 1981 the Dicksons sold the family farm and moved north to Atlanta for retirement. It was in this period that Dickson took up poetry again, publishing Western forms in journals such as The Lyric, Parnassus, Midwest Poetry Review, and Piedmont Literary Review. Many of these poems were included in his 1986 collection, A Touch of Wholeness. Dickson was a member of the Georgia Poetry Society, which instituted a chapbook contest in his name in 1989.
According to Dickson, he began writing haiku in 1984, quickly placing two haiku in the April 1984 issue of Dragonfly edited by Lorraine Ellis Harr. On her advice, he sought out R. H. Blyth’s and Harold G. Henderson’s translations of Japanese haiku, as well as Cor van den Heuvel’s The Haiku Anthology, and William J. Higginson’s The Haiku Handbook. He was soon published in other top haiku journals.
Dickson published his first haiku collection, Fragrance of Frost Grapes, in 1986, a second, Taste of Summer, in 1988, and a third, Out of Cassiopeia in 1990. All but one of his books were published by Skyefield Press in Maine by his sister, Marthalyn, a retired book restorer. He would go on to compile two additional haiku collections, and in 1993, friend and fellow haiku poet Vincent Tripi put out a retrospective of his haiku, titled A Moon in Each Eye. For someone with such a short career in haiku, Dickson managed to win several prizes, including a 1st Place honor in the Haiku Society of America’s Harold G. Henderson Memorial Haiku Award in 1990.
In personal letters and in an interview in the journal Mirrors, Dickson emphasized the two or three hours he dedicated each day to working on his poetry. That work included a large amount of editing and rewriting using the old fashioned “I-T-Y” rules of journalism: brevity, simplicity, and clarity. Simplicity, specifically, he felt applied to many new writers of haiku who “find it extremely difficult … to look at poetry from an entirely new perspective. They say too much. They use figures of speech. They make abstract statements, voice opinions. They anthropomorphize nature.” These are natural sentiments from an ex-journalist, and he was true to their meaning in his own work.
On advice from Modern Haiku editor Robert Spiess, Dickson strove to avoid “trite topics” and “hackneyed themes.” This absence of staid subjects in his work is easily noticed, since a large majority of American as well as Japanese haiku feature the same kinds of subjects—leaf shadows, moons, cherry blossoms, etc.—that hark back to haiku’s roots in renga, or further back to waka with its limited allowable vocabulary. This drive for originality led Tripi to remark in the Mirrors interview that Dickson was a “master of the beginning line.”
Dickson’s haiku often focus on the natural landscapes of the U.S. South, often in a near 5–7–5 syllabic pattern.
Blue Ridge valley: from behind the plum thicket a dulcimer’s thrum
. . . Frogpond 9:2 (May 1986)
flooded rice field— a cajun netting crawfish from his pirogue
. . . Cicada (California) 11 (4:2, 1988)
His nature haiku are full of specific plants and animals:
field of Queen Anne’s lace — a black butterfly settles on a stone
. . . Frogpond 11:2 (May 1988)
dense fog a mockingbird fills it
. . . Appalachian Twilight (1987)
And where many poets use season names (spring, summer, etc.) Dickson was more likely to use the names of months.
November field a bird dog sculptured by the scent of quail
. . . Modern Haiku 18:3 (Autumn 1987),
On haiku that reference human behavior, seeing as how he discovered haiku in his seventies, it is not surprising that the concerns of his subjects reflect those of an older man. He wrote several poems on objects dimming, for example this, probably his most-anthologized haiku:
rain-swept parking lot headlights of a locked car grow dim
. . . Modern Haiku 22:2 (Summer 1991)
Additionally, many of his haiku reflect a nostalgia for times gone past, shown in an array of old hands, old farm equipment, and items such as moonshine stills and homemade teas.
driving the tractor— the old farmer’s hands still shaped to plow handles
. . . A Moon in Each Eye (1993)
december flurries— boots and bark simmering for sassafras tea
. . . from “Wild Tea (A Haiku Sequence), A Touch of Wholeness (1986),
Yet many haiku, especially those in The Old Cajun sequence, which concern a cast of characters in Thibodaux, Lafourche parish, Louisiana (near where Dickson’s daughter worked), revel in life, despite their shortening time:
square-dance fiddle the old cajun squeezes and swings the plump young widow
. . . from “The Old Cajun” sequence, Wind Chimes 16 (1985)
cajun cabin … the aroma of hot gumbo floats on the bayou
. . . Frogpond 12:4 (November 1989), Museum of Haiku Literature Award
AUTHOR: Paul Miller
Books and chapbooks
- Dickson, Charles B. Fragrance of Frost Grapes. Deer Island, Maine: Skyefield Press, 1986. Limited edition chapbook.
- Dickson, Charles B. Appalachian Twilight. Aylmer, Que.: Haiku Canada, 1987. Haiku Canada Sheet (trifold broadsheet); 21 haiku.
- Dickson, Charles B. A Moon in Each Eye. Edited by Vincent Tripi. Gualala, Calif.: AHA Books, 1993. 100 haiku.
- Dickson, Charles B. Out of Cassiopeia: Haiku and Senryu. Deer Isle, Maine: Skyefield Press, January 1990. 28 haiku.
- Dickson, Charles B. Taste of Summer: Twenty Haiku. Deer Island, Maine: Skyefield Press, January 1988.
- Dickson, Charles B. A Touch of Wholeness. Deer Island, Maine: Skyefield Press, 1986. Poetry.
- Miller, Paul, ed. Marsh Orchids: Selected Haiku of Charles B. Dickson. Unpublished manuscript.
Anthologies and general books about haiku
- Blyth, R. H. Haiku. Tokyo: Hokuseido Press, 4 volumes, 1949–52.
- Burns, Allan, ed. Montage: A Haiku Gallery. May 2009– . Cumulative Web anthology. Weekly, May 2009. Introduction on The Haiku Foundation website: https://www.thehaikufoundation.org/2009/05/07/montage-a-haiku-gallery/. 14 haiku.
- Burns, Allan, ed. Montage: The Book. Winchester, Va.: The Haiku Foundation, 2010. Print version of the haiku gallery.14 haiku.
- Burns, Allan, ed. Where the River Goes: The Nature Tradition in English-Language Haiku. Ormskirk, U.K.: Snapshot Press, 2013. 32 haiku.
- Fraticelli, Marco, ed. Haiku Canada 10th Anniversary Holograph Anthology 1987. Aylmer, Que.: Haiku Canada, 1987. 1 haiku.
- Higginson, William J., with Penny Harter. The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1985.
- Higginson, William J. Haiku World: An International Poetry Almanac. Tokyo, New York, and London: Kodansha International, 1996. 1 haiku.
- Kacian, Jim, Philip Rowland, and Allan Burns, eds. Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years. Introduction by Billy Collins. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Co., 2013. 4 haiku.
- Lifshitz, Leatrice. Only Morning in Her Shoes: Poems about Old Women. Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 1990. 1 haiku.
- McKay, Anne, ed. Voices: Haiku Canada Members’ Anthology 1988–89. Aylmer, Que.: Haiku Canada, 1988. 1 haiku.
- Reichhold, Jane, and Werner Reichhold, eds. April Fool: The World’s First and Only Haiku Collection of It’s Kind in the World!. Gualala, Calif.: AHA Books, 1991. 2 senryu.
- Ross, Bruce, ed. Haiku Moment: An Anthology of Contemporary North American Haiku. Boston, Rutland, Vt., and Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1993. 14 haiku.
- Rotella, Alexis, ed. The Rise and Fall of Sparrows: A Collection of North American Haiku. San Diego, Calif.: Los Hombres Press, 1990. 1 haiku.
- van den Heuvel, Cor, ed. The Haiku Anthology: English Language Haiku by Contemporary American and Canadian Poets. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1974.
Articles, reviews, and memorials
- “Dedicated to the Memory of Charles B. Dickson, June 14, 1915–May 12, 1991.” Modern Haiku 22:3 (Fall 1991), 3. Obituary/memorial.
- Dickson, Charles B. “In memory of Charles B. Dickson.” Frogpond 14:2 (Summer 1991), 4. Obituary/memorial.
- Dickson, Charles B. “Kernels: Haiku & Senryu, by Joe Nutt.” Frogpond 12:4 (November 1989), 40–41. Review.
- Dickson, Charles B. “Winter and Wild Roses, by Nina A. Wicker.” Frogpond 12:4 (November 1989), 41. Review.
- Dickson , Charles B. “… A Woman of Passage, by Anne McKay.” Modern Haiku 21:1 (Winter–Spring 1990), 73–75. Review.
- Feingold, Bruce. “The Legacy of Charles B. Dickson,” Frogpond 27:3 (2004). Review essay.
- “For Charles Dickson.” Frogpond 14:3 (Autumn 1991), 15. Obituary/memorial.
- Lamb, Elizabeth Searle. “fragrance of frost grapes, by Charles B. Dickson.” Frogpond 9:3 (August 1986), 44. Book note.
- Lamb, Elizabeth Searle. “A Moon in Each Eye, by Charles B. Dickson.” Modern Haiku 24:3 (Fall 1993), 92–93. Review.
- Neubauer, Patricia, “Haiku by Charles B. Dickson.” Modern Haiku 22:3 (Fall 1991), 6. Haibun.
- Spiess, Robert. “fragrance of frost grapes, by Charles B. Dickson.” Modern Haiku 17:3 (Autumn 1986), 55–56. Review.
- Spiess, Robert. “Out of Cassiopeia, by Charles B. Dickson.” Modern Haiku 21:2 (Summer 1990), 79–80. Brief review.
- Spiess, Robert. “Taste of Summer: Twenty Haiku, by Charles B. Dickson.” Modern Haiku 19:2 (Summer 1988), 66. Brief review.
- “Taste of Summer, by Charles B. Dickson.” Frogpond 11:2 (May 1988), 43. Book note.
- “Taste of Summer,” Books, Wind Chimes 24 (1988). Brief mention.
- “Tributes to Charles B. Dickson.” Modern Haiku 22:3 (Fall 1991), 5–10. Obituary/memorial.
- Tripi, Vincent. “Mirrors On the Road.” Mirrors 2:4 (1989).
- Wainwright, Carol Scott. “Fragrance of Frost Grapes.” Book Reviews, Wind Chimes 20 (1987).
In print periodicals
- Black Bear Review
- Blithe Spirit
- Brussels Sprout
- California Quarterly
- Chattahoochee Review
- Cicada (California)
- Country Poet
- Earthwise Poetry Journal
- Galaxy of Verse
- Haiku Quarterly (Arizona)
- Inkling Literary Journal
- Jean’s Journal
- The Lyric
- Midwest Chaparral
- Midwest Poetry Review
- Modern Haiku
- New Cicada
- New England Sampler
- Old Pond
- Orphic Lute
- Proof Rock
- Piedmont Literary Review
- Poetic Justice
- South by Southeast
- The Red Pagoda
- Wind Chimes
- Bryon Herbert Reece Memorial Poetry Contest 1985, 2nd Place
- 67th Quarterly Haiku Contest, Honorable Mention; Dragonfly 14:7 (Summer 1987)
- Daniel Whitehead Hicky Award of the Atlanta Writers Club, 1988, winner
- Museum of Haiku Literature Award (Tokyo), in Frogpond 12:4 (1989)
- Haiku Quarterly (Arizona) Contest, September 1989, Honorable Mention
- Hawai’i Education Association Contest (Humorous Section), 1990, 8th Honorable Mention
- Haiku Quarterly (Arizona)Contest, March 1990, 1st Prize
- Harold G. Henderson Awards, Haiku Society of America, 1990, 1st Place
- Museum of Haiku Literature Award (Tokyo), in Frogpond 15:1 (1992)