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My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry

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In 1965, when the poet Jack Spicer died at the age of forty, he left behind a trunkful of papers and manuscripts and a few copies of the seven small books he had seen to press. A West Coast poet, his influence spanned the national literary scene of the 1950s and '60s, though in many ways Spicer's innovative writing ran counter to that of his contemporaries in the New York In 1965, when the poet Jack Spicer died at the age of forty, he left behind a trunkful of papers and manuscripts and a few copies of the seven small books he had seen to press. A West Coast poet, his influence spanned the national literary scene of the 1950s and '60s, though in many ways Spicer's innovative writing ran counter to that of his contemporaries in the New York School and the West Coast Beat movement. Now, more than forty years later, Spicer's voice is more compelling, insistent, and timely than ever. During his short but prolific life, Spicer troubled the concepts of translation, voice, and the act of poetic composition itself. My Vocabulary Did This to Me is a landmark publication of this essential poet's life work, and includes poems that have become increasingly hard to find and many published here for the first time.


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In 1965, when the poet Jack Spicer died at the age of forty, he left behind a trunkful of papers and manuscripts and a few copies of the seven small books he had seen to press. A West Coast poet, his influence spanned the national literary scene of the 1950s and '60s, though in many ways Spicer's innovative writing ran counter to that of his contemporaries in the New York In 1965, when the poet Jack Spicer died at the age of forty, he left behind a trunkful of papers and manuscripts and a few copies of the seven small books he had seen to press. A West Coast poet, his influence spanned the national literary scene of the 1950s and '60s, though in many ways Spicer's innovative writing ran counter to that of his contemporaries in the New York School and the West Coast Beat movement. Now, more than forty years later, Spicer's voice is more compelling, insistent, and timely than ever. During his short but prolific life, Spicer troubled the concepts of translation, voice, and the act of poetic composition itself. My Vocabulary Did This to Me is a landmark publication of this essential poet's life work, and includes poems that have become increasingly hard to find and many published here for the first time.

30 review for My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry

  1. 4 out of 5

    C.A.

    Who the FUCK are these people giving this book less than 5 stars!!!? Anyway, FOR CRIPES SAKE, if you're reading this and have never heard of Jack Spicer before, I wish I was YOU. Meaning I wish I could read these poems all over again like a pretty young virgin. I would LOVE to be Spicer's virgin, eager with spoon and knuckle, lopsided and cock-eyed from the strain of the constant WHACK deep into these poems! WE OWE THE FUCKING WORLD TO GIZZI AND KILLIAN FOR THIS CHUNK OF PARADISE!

  2. 5 out of 5

    M. Sarki

    http://msarki.tumblr.com/post/5295902... It is my hope that at least one person will be glad I wrote this review. There will be no need to thank me. First off I want to express the great respect I have for the mind of Jack Spicer, for the seriousness in which he took his poetry, and the demands he placed on his students for them to do their very best work. It is also important to note that reading both the poems and lectures together concurrently offers more to the student of his verse and helps http://msarki.tumblr.com/post/5295902... It is my hope that at least one person will be glad I wrote this review. There will be no need to thank me. First off I want to express the great respect I have for the mind of Jack Spicer, for the seriousness in which he took his poetry, and the demands he placed on his students for them to do their very best work. It is also important to note that reading both the poems and lectures together concurrently offers more to the student of his verse and helps to focus on the particular components of his teaching. Even after plowing through the first sixty pages of his verse in these collected poems I was already doubting their worth to our literary history. Though a newcomer to the work of Jack Spicer it is clear to me he is, as a person and teacher, more well known than his poems. But it is possible, but not likely, that his teaching of poetry and his writing of it gave him all the fame he really needed. The very first poem of the collection begins with Berkeley in the Time of Plague and with that beginning I was immediately impressed and excited about what I would find as I continued through the book. There were three poems worth reading and remarking on in that first book and it wasn't until his leaving Minnesota and arriving in New York City and Boston that Jack seemed to hit his stride. But it did not last. Soon after his most-loved book After Lorca was published in 1957 Jack Spicer began his swift descent downhill. But in the meantime he was certainly developing his infamous teaching style, and the method in which he claimed to write his poems became for some otherworldly. And that is not a compliment. In my opinion, anyone who claims to hear the word of God, His voice, or even the voice of a green Martian dictating poems to him is cause for great concern. Whoever, in Jack's mind, was dictating to him as if it were divine word and in no need at all of any revision or editing, but instead transcribed verbatim, is frightening. The evidence presented in the poems for us is proof they were not godly, not otherworldly, and not untranslatable. This provided some comfort to me by knowing his method and results were basic lies and I was dealing with a delusional man who craved these powers so much enough to imagine they were real. And for the student of poetry today who subscribes to these ideas of Jack Spicer's I say good luck. The larger your collective crowd becomes the greater your delusions of grandeur about yourselves and your poetry shall be. And your castles will be made of sand. For sake of argument and disclosure I will confess my own desire for composing poetry stems from the concept of my tricking my own unconscious enough that it speaks, which is not an easy thing to do, and not something to be recognized until the final product has been honed to perfection. It is true that a poet can know when a poem is right and there is nothing else to be done with it. It begins to have a life of its own. It is possible that Jack Spicer's word for the unconscious was Martian or dictation, but again, I highly doubt it. I am also suspect of his so-called furniture placed within his "serial" poems. I just do not believe him. As much as I want to make claim that Jack was a liar and a fraud I will instead relax my toughened stance and give him measure enough to suggest again my idea of his likely delusions. Individuals in great pain are often delusional. Serious and practicing alcoholics are for sure. It is quite obvious to me after reading just the very first lecture in The House That Jack Built, that Spicer was an engaging poet and teacher who was very smart and who could have been so much better as a poet and teacher than he turned out to be. It is a fact, for anyone interested, that practicing drug addicts and alcoholics do not mature emotionally. These addicts may have fantastic vision and resources in which to make a huge difference to the development of our art and social sciences, but never can they achieve their more vast potential that is due their talents and skills they have been born with or worked so hard to acquire. Even the hardest efforts involved in being an artist of some higher rank will fail in direct respect to what a more evolved and mature artist with the same exact talent and skills going for them can produce. A prime example of an evolved, mature artist would be Wallace Stevens. A brief look at the very first poems of Jack Spicer written in the early fifties can also prove this point. There are some brilliant pieces in that group and it is a shame he could not continue on with the job at hand with sober mind and the intensity he had for his writing and art. Early on in his poetry collection, My Vocabulary Did This to Me, I noticed the poems getting silly, coded, and abstract to the point of a pretentious elitism that was wasted on me as I was not at all impressed. It is the same reason I never have liked the poetry or prose of The Beats, and I predict that history will discount their work as art and only mention it in regards to its effect on our history. The Beats were definitely an historical sociological event, but really nothing much else. The title of the Spicer collected poetry edition incorporates his purported dying last words referring to his vocabulary. My argument would be that Spicer did not use his vocabulary to the poems' benefit. Often a mediocre word or unnecessary word is used in any given line. A weak word rather than a strong word was typically used in almost every poem, and nowhere have I read that words were important to Spicer. Words are things and things are important. There is no doubt in my mind that Spicer would have benefited having a tyrannical editor and the fact that Spicer resisted any editing or revision of his poems tells me he was either delusional about the voices he was hearing in his head or afraid of the consequences an authority figure would have inflicted on his poetry. It is not a far stretch to imagine Spicer avoiding at all costs any authority outside himself and the Martians communicating to him. Whether Martians are dictating to you, or a muse, or a memory of something still there in your subconscious, or any other of the multitudes of methods poets reveal and lay claim to as the way in which they get a poem onto the page, it matters little to me and I wonder why these people who teach (like Jack Spicer) and act as if they know make such a great big deal out of it. I love a good lecture. I have been present for several of the seven to ten hour lecture-ordeals made of, and by, Gordon Lish in his fiction-writing classes he has held privately for over forty years. What will be a thread in this digression to follow is that Lish championed a student of Jack Spicer's back in 1962 and this ex-student, Jack Gilbert, went to on to immediate great fame for six months before rejecting it and escaping to an island off of Greece, not to be heard from again for twenty years. In 1982 Lish, as an editor at the publishing house Alfred Knopf, published Gilbert's second book of poetry, Monolithos, and Knopf continued to publish every book thereafter until last year in 2012 when the Collected Poems of Jack Gilbert arrived to literary acclaim. Instead of attacking Jack Spicer and provoking the wrath of all his admirers, I think it best for me to focus on what made Jack Gilbert such a better poet than any of his contemporaries of the sixties including Denise Levertov, the Beats, Duncan, Spicer, and anyone else who might come to mind in the process of my expression. There is good reason to expect I will also say something about the methods Spicer used to exact his poems and the reason I think he was wrong in the way he went about it, precisely because their quality was surely lacking. Most of us who are aware of the pop group, The Beatles, and the beautiful catalog of songs, specifically the ones credited to Lennon and McCartney, are also aware that on the rare occasion a song came to one of the boys in a dream or in waking from a sleep and was written down exactly as it came to them. The key word here is "rare". It does happen. I can attest to it happening to me at least twice. But to think that anything that comes through our consciousness is worthy of not editing, not revising, not taking a second look at to see if it can be improved is hogwash pure and simple. Many times a poem that comes to us by way of stream of consciousness is simply a matter of getting our attention, writing it down as it comes, and then going to work on it similar to an ironsmith working away at his anvil. Jack Spicer did not believe in this method of composition and that is why the vast majority of his poems are unfeeling, blank, and full of unnecessary and weak words. Only a pretentious and delusional person would think that what they wrote spontaneously and verbatim would be worthy of no revision and actually looked on as great art by the person who feels he or she was the vehicle for the enlightened artistic transmission. It is difficult for me to imagine Spicer devoting four hours of gestation over a line he first heard before setting it down on the page. Making sure he was listening correctly to the Martians instead of simply arranging the furniture in his head seemed ludicrous to me and more than slightly insane. Catchwords such as "dictation", "furniture", and "craft" go a long way in explaining Spicer's verse but fail in making his poems ultimately worth reading. It became obvious to me later in the collected poems of Jack Spicer that his so-called "furniture" was made up of an enormous study on his part and a working knowledge of historical works by dead poets of some renown. For me it was no different than Yeats using the Greek mythologies and other more sophisticated ideas to construct poems that only brilliant academics and students of this mythology could ever understand. It was this code that would keep the common man at bay and unable to appreciate the poetry of William Butler Yeats. In other words, his work is useless to the vast majority of people on the planet. Same goes for Spicer but he calls this his furniture and respects its use when dictated to him from the voice he happens to be listening to coming from his head. In most of the lectures it is painfully obvious to me that Spicer is nothing less than full of shit, but he does believe in what he is saying, and therefore, for me at least, extremely delusional. It is a wonder to me how poets of this northwestern region became so respected and revered when an actual real poet such as Jack Gilbert stayed basically on the periphery. History is bound to correct this grave mistake and I suppose Gilbert knew it all along and felt no need to self-promote or advertise his genius. This private and reclusive behavior can be likened to Emily Dickinson who must have known she was producing great work that the common people were just not ready for either. After the end of her humble life, history has shown her to be as great as she most likely already knew she was. The introduction to the third lecture, Poetry in Process, warns the reader that it is "the most contrary and least accessible of Spicer's lectures." I believe the lecture is inaccessible because of its hogwash and the examples Spicer gives and reads from, Book of Magazine Verse, is probably the worst poetry of all his poetry to date that I have read. Connecting his dots as if God had spoken to him as He did with Moses is the most grandiose stretch he has produced yet on the page. It was such a burden for me to complete this lecture, but I did so in order to see the trees. Spicer glorifies in the absurd, claims that poetry is not to be enjoyed, and suggests he is providing the world some greater spiritual truth if only he and his students can figure out what the Martians are attempting to say through Spicer's poetry. Respectfully, I must ask of those who are his acolytes if you are all just kooks? A poem without feeling is to be avoided. Without feeling, there is no reason to even live or especially to suffer through reading bad poetry. A dead poem is entropy and to be avoided at all costs. Having to have something explained is not poetry at all but allegiance to a false god. Now typically I would say these types of gods must be destroyed, but I doubt Spicer had anything evil going on but a bad case of low self-esteem. He was short, and rather ugly, and bit sexually confused according to what I have read so far about the loves in his life. Spicer had little respect for authority or those poets and teachers elevated to higher standing than he enjoyed. By being contrarian and smart, as well as dangerously versed in poetic history, artists on the fringe were attracted to his teaching. Wannabes especially. Spicer insisted that poems were made to be read by, and to, other poets as nobody else could ever understand them. This club-elitism is sickening to me and ridiculous. Of all the poets present for these lectures of 1965 in the rooms of Vancouver, how many are known or respected today as poets of the first rank? Jack Spicer is hugely popular today for reasons I have not quite figured out, but definitely his current popular rise is an interesting study of the human condition. In the following segments I have taken in pieces from an interview of Jack Gilbert, it is interesting to note the differences Gilbert saw between himself, Jack Spicer, and Allen Ginsberg. From The Paris Review "Interviews" Jack Gilbert, The Art of Poetry No. 91 Interviewed by Sarah Fay (regarding Jack Spicer and Allen Ginsberg) INTERVIEWER Is there a community—of writers or of anyone—to which you feel you belong? GILBERT Not anymore. No. INTERVIEWER Was there ever? Have you ever felt that someplace was home? GILBERT San Francisco during the sixties maybe. I lived there for seven years, like a hippie without drugs. That was lovely. INTERVIEWER In the late 1950s you were in Jack Spicer’s poetry workshop—what was that like? GILBERT You have to understand that Jack and I were very different. We knew each other well. We hung out the way everyone hung out in San Francisco at that time. We used to play chess a lot. He always lost. One day he was sitting there mumbling to himself and finally said, You cheat! What do you mean, I cheat? I said. How can you cheat at chess? You’re not so stupid that I could take pieces off the board. And he said, You cheat. You’re thinking. He was dead serious. INTERVIEWER You say it was lovely to belong in San Francisco in the sixties. It was also an intense literary scene. Did you ever feel that you were in anyone’s shadow? GILBERT There were people I respected, but we weren’t fighting. Today, you have to do something to distinguish yourself. Maybe because there’s so much money in poetry now. We used to type our poems and then go around and nail them up. Nobody would give Allen Ginsberg any money for “Howl.” It wasn’t in the running. INTERVIEWER You knew Ginsberg. How did you meet? GILBERT We had an argument about meter. He was trying to explain anapests to one of the young poets in North Beach. I leaned over and told him he was wrong. He was fresh from New York and of course thought he knew everything. He was affronted. We started arguing. Finally, he admitted I was right and he took out a matchbook, scribbled his address on it, handed it to me, and said, Come and see me. I liked him. When he came to town he wanted to write little quatrains. They were neat, but they weren’t very good. We liked each other, but I kept laughing at him nicely. One day, he got on a bus and went across the Golden Gate Bridge to see me in Sausalito. The streets turned to lanes, and the lanes to gravel, and the gravel turned into a path and then just woods. Up and up. He finally reached the abandoned house where I was living. After we talked, he said he had something he wanted to show me. He got two pages out of his bag. I read them and then read them again. I looked at him and told him they were terrific. Those two pages eventually became “Howl.” ... INTERVIEWER In your poems, how important is the interplay between syntax and line breaks? GILBERT I don’t think that way. I work by instinct and intelligence. By being smart, emotional, probing. By being sly, stubborn. By being lucky. Being serious. By being quietly passionate. By something almost like magic. INTERVIEWER To which of your poems are you most attached? GILBERT That’s like asking to which of the women you’ve loved are you most 
attached—the best ones. INTERVIEWER Do you revise a great deal? GILBERT Yes. INTERVIEWER Do you throw away a lot of poems? GILBERT More than I would like. Both Jack Gilbert and Jack Spicer were a bit obsessed with myth and often we see Orpheus present in their poems. For the sake of comparison two early poems by each should cast light on their qualities as poets and who might have had the better luck at getting to the meat of them. ORPHEUS IN HELL When he first brought his music into hell He was absurdly confident. Even over the noise of the shapeless fires And the jukebox groaning of the damned Some of them would hear him. In the upper world He had forced the stones to listen. It wasn’t quite the same. And the people he remembered Weren’t quite the same either. He began looking at faces Wondering if all of hell were without music. He tried an old song but pain Was screaming on the jukebox and the bright fire Was pelting away the faces and he heard a voice saying, “Orpheus!” He was at the entrance again And a little three-headed dog was barking at him. Later he would remember all those dead voices And call them Eurydice. ORPHEUS IN GREENWICH VILLAGE What if Orpheus, confident in the hard- found mastery, should go down into Hell? Out of the clean light down? And then, surrounded by the closing beasts and readying his lyre, should notice, suddenly, they had no ears? One poem is full of unnecessary words and bereft of feeling. The other is compressed and strong and musical. I hope you can tell that it is Gilbert's poem which comes last. There are many examples of brilliant and important poems written by Jack Gilbert. I cannot think of one important poem written by Jack Spicer, nor can I remember one I might even call remarkable. But Spicer's quest for fame, respect, and acknowledgment is definitely remarkable, as was his brilliant mind, but it is a shame that he never really grew up, just as many others of his time on the planet failed to do either. It is time we recognized the truer greatness of Jack Gilbert and others attempting to take poetry to the level it deserves and something the common man can enjoy and hold on to. I am so sorry to have to say it, but Jack Spicer fails to make this grade.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    Very glad and grateful that my oldest friend (a pretty dynamite poet in his own right, as it happens) has worked and hung out with Peter Gizzi for a long time now, who happens to be one of the editors of this collection. Spicer's a guy who, it seems, is just starting to really get his due. In his own lifetime, the poor guy was often reduced to penury and obscurity, aside from the recognition and respect of a few other mostly Berkeley-based poets and small-press publishers. Throw in some alcoho Very glad and grateful that my oldest friend (a pretty dynamite poet in his own right, as it happens) has worked and hung out with Peter Gizzi for a long time now, who happens to be one of the editors of this collection. Spicer's a guy who, it seems, is just starting to really get his due. In his own lifetime, the poor guy was often reduced to penury and obscurity, aside from the recognition and respect of a few other mostly Berkeley-based poets and small-press publishers. Throw in some alcoholism, deep depressions, failed love affairs, unsteady work and productivity and some never-to-be-mine love interests and you'd be hard-pressed not to find a poet in the mix. It's a shame, really, somebody who can write this well really ought to be rescued from near-oblivion. And he has. Here's what I think are pretty much his collected works, salvaged and groomed and laid out for all to see. It's s pretty consistently quality bunch of stuff, with some interesting experiments thrown in along with some ephemera just because it's awesome. For example, Spicer's poetry workshop student questionnaire, 'just a little something to get to know each other better' for the "poetry as magic" seminar he was teaching, is included and it's interesting, challenging, insightful and occasionally hilarious: What is your favorite book of the Bible? What is your favorite political song? Please give the approximate dates of the following: printing, Plato, Nero, Chaucer, Dante, The Battle of Waterloo, The Unification of Italy... Write a paragraph about how the fall of Rome affected modern poetry Please rank a variety of thinkers and writers in terms of how close they come to your religious beliefs, including: Plato, Li Po, Kierkegaard, Confucius, Aquinas, St Augustine, Lao Tse, Marquis De Sade (!?), Marcus Aurelius, White Goddess, Cicero, Gandhi, Luther, C.S. Lewis, The Mad Bomber (??).... What is your favorite book of the Bible? What animal do you most resemble?....What insect?....Star? Please describe a dream in which you appear as a poet And then a fill-in-the-blank of a poem with some words already provided. Head spinning yet? Of course, one could always pull the ripcord and argue that this is forbiddingly pretentious or pedantic and I'd be sympathetic, as far as it goes, but I tried my damnedest to fill it out completely and it definitely stirred up some sediment in the noggin... And then there's the imaginary dialogues with Lorca, which are great if you're not a Lorca fan and fantastic if you are... And there's his own poetry: "We Find The Body Difficult To Speak..." We find the body difficult to speak,, The face too hard to hear through, We find the eyes in kissing stammer, And that heaving groins Babble like idiots. Sex is the ache of mouth. The Squeak our bodies make When they rub mouths against each other Trying to talk. Like silent little children we embrace Aching together And love is emptiness of ear. As current We put a face against our ear And listen to it as we would a shell. Soothed by its roar. We find the body difficult, and speak across its wall like strangers. I am copying this from a fairly blurry picture I took on my phone of these pages in the copy of my friend's book. If that's not a sign of good poetry, I don't know what is. Here's the man himself, reading aloud so you don't have to: https://diva.sfsu.edu/collections/poe... Btw, if memory serves, the title of this collection also just happened to have been his last words. Riddle me that...

  4. 4 out of 5

    Dov Zeller

    I don't want to give this a rating. I am not sure why I did. Some things are even more beyond the "5 stars" than others. What makes a poem good? Imagine rating every poem with stars. If every poem ever written were in a big database and one read it and rated it between one and five stars. At least people would be talking about poems more. It will take a long time for me, coming back to his work and walking away and sitting in front of the puzzle pieces trying to get a few edge pieces in and then I don't want to give this a rating. I am not sure why I did. Some things are even more beyond the "5 stars" than others. What makes a poem good? Imagine rating every poem with stars. If every poem ever written were in a big database and one read it and rated it between one and five stars. At least people would be talking about poems more. It will take a long time for me, coming back to his work and walking away and sitting in front of the puzzle pieces trying to get a few edge pieces in and then giving up, finding one under the cushions of the couch. Coins, puzzle pieces, sand from varying coast-lines. There is something of the blind prophet in here, who spits when he talks (excitement), something of the boy who cried wolf, but one who is sly and wry, lying in the sun, chewing on a piece of straw, and still enjoying his jokes. A great bitterness and a great innocence. At his best, I think, Spicer disorients the space-time continuum of small architectures. He isn't always at his best, but who of us are? His work is often trying to get through certain doors and the writing is his way of knocking and hoping to be let in. So the poems don't always get to the places he is looking for. But when they do, they are surrealistic landscapes come to life in a very personal way (with the capacity for some kind of intimacy, which I think is important.) Gizzi and Killian do a great job with the introduction.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sigrun Hodne

    Why I wanted to read Spicer? What can I say? Taste this: Any fool can get into an ocean Any fool can get into an ocean But it takes a Goddess To get out of one. What’s true of oceans is true, of course, Of labyrinths and poems. When you start swimming Through riptide of rhythms and the metaphor’s seaweed You need to be a good swimmer or a born Goddess To get back out of them Look at the sea otters bobbing wildly Out in the middle of the poem They look so eager and peaceful playing out there where the water Why I wanted to read Spicer? What can I say? Taste this: Any fool can get into an ocean Any fool can get into an ocean But it takes a Goddess To get out of one. What’s true of oceans is true, of course, Of labyrinths and poems. When you start swimming Through riptide of rhythms and the metaphor’s seaweed You need to be a good swimmer or a born Goddess To get back out of them Look at the sea otters bobbing wildly Out in the middle of the poem They look so eager and peaceful playing out there where the water hardly moves You might get out through all the waves and rocks Into the middle of the poem to touch them But when you’ve tried the blessed water long Enough to want to start backward That’s when the fun starts Unless you’re a poet or an otter or something supernatural You’ll drown, dear. You’ll drown Any Greek can get you into a labyrinth But it takes a hero to get out of one What’s true of labyrinths is true of course Of love and memory. When you start remembering.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Peter Landau

    Who said that the right book will find you at the right moment in your life when you need it most? Someone did, but I can’t find the quote, which I heard Bookslut founder Jessa Crispin say on a recent podcast. Maybe its her quote, which wouldn’t surprise me, being that she’s my favorite literary critic. Whether I’m imagining the quote or just mangling it beyond Google’s software ability to uncover online, it’s true to my experience. That was certainly the case with MY VOCABULARY DID THIS TO ME: Who said that the right book will find you at the right moment in your life when you need it most? Someone did, but I can’t find the quote, which I heard Bookslut founder Jessa Crispin say on a recent podcast. Maybe its her quote, which wouldn’t surprise me, being that she’s my favorite literary critic. Whether I’m imagining the quote or just mangling it beyond Google’s software ability to uncover online, it’s true to my experience. That was certainly the case with MY VOCABULARY DID THIS TO ME: THE COLLECTED POETRY by Jack Spicer, a book that’s been sitting on my shelf for years after reading a strong review that has also passed beyond the reach of my spotty memory. I saw its spine while reading another book on my treadmill and the title, as it always does, struck me as something I’d like to know better. It’s a thick tome, gathering almost all the work of the poet who died young, or middle-aged, which I consider young from my perspective. It’s a lot to digest, and the commitment of reading a writer’s life work all at once feels gluttonous and somehow disrespectful, like watching fall foliage from the window of a speeding car. But I did it anyway. Spicer said a poem is but a part of a larger whole and worked towards a continuity not found in his earliest pieces, which he collected under the title ONE NIGHT STANDS. Each poem informs the next, creating a dialogue that I overheard in my five-day trek through Spicer’s oeuvre, but, like much poetry for me, it was as if heard from another room. I guess there is a wall that separates me from fully experiencing poetry, or I just haven’t let go of my preconceived expectations of what a poem should be. But one thing I do feel is the emotion behind the words, carried by the rhythm and the silent sounds of the lines, mysteriously delivered but received nonetheless. That emotion is loneliness. The poet was supposedly lonely, though the introduction paints a portrait of a man involved in gay rights, writer communities and work, but I know that sometimes the most lonely place is among people. As the book moves chronologically the earlier, more traditional poems, are followed by experimentation and a wild sense of freedom and fun, even if at its core beats a broken heart. Anything can become poetry. Correspondences interrupt poems, an application form to a class Spicer taught is included, as are novels and manifestos, equally poems. The title of this collection is supposedly the last words Spicer uttered before dying. No truer words have ever been said, but then by saying words we are bent to the word’s power. However, to say nothing is worse. Words are the worst form of communication, but it’s all we have to say to one another.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Brandon

    Well. Look I don't even know what to say. Will the nearest people to Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian please hug them. Will the nearest people to thirty dollars please hug this book. All people who have not read this book before one year has passed will not be my friends anymore.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    Dear Lorca, I would like to make poems out of real objects. The lemon to be a lemon that the reader could cut or squeeze or taste—a real lemon like a newspaper in a collage is a real newspaper. I would like the moon in my poems to be a real moon, one which could be suddenly covered with a cloud that has nothing to do with ithe poem—a moon utterly independent of images. The imagination pictures the real. I would like to point to the real, disclose it, to make a poem that has no sound in it but the Dear Lorca, I would like to make poems out of real objects. The lemon to be a lemon that the reader could cut or squeeze or taste—a real lemon like a newspaper in a collage is a real newspaper. I would like the moon in my poems to be a real moon, one which could be suddenly covered with a cloud that has nothing to do with ithe poem—a moon utterly independent of images. The imagination pictures the real. I would like to point to the real, disclose it, to make a poem that has no sound in it but the pointing of a finger. We have both tried to be independent of images ( you from the start and I only when I grew old enough to tire of trying to make things connect), to make things visible rather than to make pictures of them (phantasia not imaginari). How easy it is in erotic musings or in the truer imagination of a dream to invent a beautiful boy. How difficult to take a boy in a blue bathing suit that I have watched as casually as a tree and to make him visible in a poem as a tree is visible, not as an image or a picture but as something alive—caught forever in the structure of words. Live moons, live lemons, live boys in bathing suits. The poem is a collage of the real. But things decay, reason argues. Real things become garbage. The piece of lemon you shellac to the canvas begins to develop a mold, the newspaper tells of incredibly ancient events in forgotten slang, the boy becomes a grandfather. Yes, but the garbage of the real still reaches out into the current world making its object s, in turn, visible—lemons calls to lemon, newspaper to newspaper, boy to boy. As things decay they bring their equivalents into being. Things do not connect; they correspond. That is what makes it possible for a poet to translate real objects, to bring them across language as easily as he can bring them across time. That tree you saw in Spain is a tree I could never have seen in California, that lemon has a different smell and a different taste, BUT the answer is this—every place and every time has a real object to correspond with your real object—that lemon may become this lemon, or it may even become this piece of seaweed, or this particular color of gray in this ocean. One does not need to imagine that lemon; one needs to discover it. Even these letters. They correspond with something (I don’t know what) that you have written (perhaps as unapparently as that lemon corresponds to this piece of seaweed) and, in turn, some future poet will write something which corresponds to them. That is how we dead men write to each other. Love, Jack The important thing about this collection is that it is post-mortem. Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian found the iceberg dipped beneath the rest of Spicer’s known works and exposed it: his correspondence to the dead before he died. This was Spicer’s hologram before he became a ghost, and for that it all the more prescient. It is achieved with his being long gone and has so much more power as a memory than as active intuition. Here we have a lost poet, acknowledging himself as already lost, a live man in death’s palace. That’s why all the correspondences, all the elegies, all the references to Orpheus ring so true. He met Death and played cards. What it resulted in was a beautiful clairvoyance, a smart, venereal reach into the esophagus of the forgotten that pulled out vital breath, smothered in dust, and revived it into Dionysian lovesongs: “The Day Five Thousand Fish Died Along the Charles River” And when the fish come in to die They slap their heads against the rocks until they float Downstream on one dead eye. From rocks The Irish boys yell and throw rocks at them and beat them with their stick. Gulls wheel in the fine sky. Tall as an ogre God walks among the rocks. His angels cry, “Yell and throw rocks at them and beat them with sticks!” But watch those upturned eyes That gleam like God’s own candles in the sun. Nothing Deserves to live. “Éternuement” There is a beautiful world in a little girl’s body. When I poke my fingers into her I can see it. Or when the absurdity of the postman Or the snow that won’t stay still on the ground Or the queers with painted noses that walk together in the Bois Or the birds When I poke my fingers into them I can see it When I poke my fingers into them I can see it. There is something oddly responsible about this mission. I met the two editors in Iowa right after the book was published and they couldn’t stop talking about the discovery of all of Spicer’s old works. The archives! It was an extrication, like an archeological dig. They had submerged into the lair of a bone dry New York Attic and found the last gold strings of Hammurabai. It is them, dipping their hands into the furls of Spicer’s corpse, that like Spicer does with his letters to Lorca, tries to achieve the same thing. Reactivation, the ouija board of the cerebellum, pulling out all the wonders of the ancient world and letting them spill; poetry as memory: Any fool can get into an ocean But it takes a Goddess To get out of one. What’s true of oceans is true, of course, Of labyrinths and poems. When you start swimming Through riptide of rhythms and the metaphor’s seaweed You need to be a good swimmer or a born Goddess To get back out of them Look at the sea otters bobbing wildly Out in the middle of the poem They look so eager and peaceful playing out there where the water hardly moves You might get out through all the waves and rocks Into the middle of the poem to touch them But when you’ve tried the blessed water long Enough to want to start backward That’s when the fun starts Unless you’re a poet or an otter or something supernatural You’ll drown, dear. You’ll drown Any Greek can get you into a labyrinth But it takes a hero to get out of one What’s true of labyrinths is true of course Of love and memory. When you start remembering. I like Spicer’s poetry because it is agonizing in its reach for another time. He wants too badly to not only be ancient Greek, but to be a deity. And not only a deity, but a tragic deity: Then I, a singer and hunter, fished In streams too deep for love. A god grew there, a god grew there, A wet and weblike god grew there. Mella, mella peto In medio flumine. His flesh is honey and his bones are made Of brown, brown sugar and he is a god. He is a god. I know he is a god. Mella, mella peto In medio flumine. Drink wine, I sang, drink cold red wine. Grow liquid, spread yourself. O bruise yourself, intoxicate yourself. Dilute yourself. You want to web the rivers of the world. You want to glue the tides together with yourself. You look so innocent— Water wouldn’t melt in your mouth. I looked and saw him weep a honey tear. I, Orpheus, had raised a water god That wept a honey tear. Mella, mella peto In medio flumine. His existence as a poet is predicated on the fallen, the emerging sadistic calm of no company, no actual physicality to his contact. It is very sullen, very sad. And yet spirtual, awakening, serene; like quiet is: Later he would remember all those dead voices / And call them Eurydice. There is a magical quality to this exchange (…living to dead once living to dead once living), it is a conversation that is channeled through assumptions and growth, something akin to fermentation. It is, in essence, responding. So to contribute quotes to dead men is in a way false and superficial, it is also enabling. Spicer covers this journey in his letters, his exchanges, even the objects change. The seagulls, the greenness of the ocean, the fish—they become things to be traded for a smile or the sound of conversation—counters rather than objects. Nothing matters except the big lie of the personal—the lie in which these objects do not believe. It is the flowing dispelling of an idea which is transferred, in the way the poet says he is more of a conductor, so Spicer illuminates past rhythms as these editors (Gizzi and Killian) arranged and published Spicer’s ancient texts to be made into new songs, maybe anachronistic, but then for all the better, all the more magically. Here: they describe Spicer’s favoring of Blaser’s description of the serial poem as akin to being in a dark house, where you throw a light on in a room, then turn it off, and enter the next room, where you turn on a light, and so on. This movement from room to room in an architectural structure makes sense if you think of “stanza” as coming from the Italian for “small room.” As his poetry moves from dark room to dark room, each flash of illumination leaves an afterimage on the imagination, and the lines of the poem become artifacts of an ongoing engagement with larger forces. Spicer was a social poet, who like Frank O’hara made the society of poets, especially gay poets, that much more alive by swooping around, faery-boys, creating new mentions, exactions considering poetry. I like this set of laws he made with James Alexander: When James Alexander came back to California he and the other poet who exists in the universe formulated a series of true propositions: THAT POETRY ALONE CAN LOVE POETRY THAT POEMS CRY OUT TO EACH OTHER FROM A GREAT DISTANCE THAT POETS, BEING BASTARD FATHERS, LOVE EACH OTHER LIKE BASTARD FATHERS WHEN THEY SEE THEIR CHILDREN PLAYING TOGETHER THAT POEMS PLAY TOGETHER FROM A GREAT DISTANCE It was made illegal for a bachelor to watch poems. But none of this would have worked if Spicer didn’t have an ear. If he didn’t know how to write. Here are a couple poems “The ballad of escape” and “Imaginary Elegies” I have become lost many times along the ocean With my ears filled with newly cut flowers With my tongue full of loving and agony I have become lost many times along the ocean Like I lose myself in the hearts of some boys. There is no night in which, giving a kiss, One does not feel the smiles of the faceless people And there is no one in touching something recently born Who can quite forget the motionless skulls of horses. Because the roses always search in the forehead For a hard landscape of bone And the hands of a man have no other purpose Than to be like the roots that grow beneath the wheat-fields. Like I lose myself in the hearts of some boys I have become lost many times along the ocean Along the vastness of water I wander searching An end to the lives that have tried to complete me *** Light is a carrion crow Cawing and swooping. Cawing and swooping. Then, then there is a sudden stop. The day changes. There is an innocent old sun quite cold in cloud. The ache of sunshine stops. God is gone. God is gone. Nothing was quite as good. It’s getting late. Put on your coat. It’s getting dark. It’s getting cold. Most things happen in twilight When the sun goes down and the moon hasn’t come And the earth dances. Most things happen in twilight When neither eye is open And the earth dances. Most things happen in twilight When the earth dances And God is blind as a gigantic bat. The boys above the swimming pool receive the sun. Their groins are pressed against the warm cement. They look as if they dream. As if their bodies dream. Rescue their bodies from the poisoned sun, Shelter the dreamers. They’re like lobsters now Hot red and private as they dream. They dream about themselves. They dream of dreams about themselves. They dream they dream of dreams of themselves. Splash them with twilight like a wet bat. Unbind the dreamers. Poet, Be like God. *** Dear Robin, That is why all the stuff from the past (except the Elegies and Troilus) looks foul to me. The poems belong nowhere. They are one night stands filled (the best of them) with their own emotions, but pointing nowhere, as meaningless as sex in a Turkish bath. It was not my anger or my frustration that got in the way of my poetry but the fact that I viewed each anger and each frustration as unique—something to be converted into poetry as one would exchange foreign money. I learned this from the English department (and from the English Department of the spirit—that great quagmire that lurks at the bottom of us all) and it ruined ten years of my poetry. Look at those other poems. Admire them if you like. They are beautiful but dumb. Poems should echo and re-echo against one each other. They should create resonances. They cannot live alone any more than we can. So don’t send the box of old poetry to Don Allen. Burn it or rather open it with Don and cry over the possible books that were buried in it, the Songs Against Apollo, the Gallery of Gorgeous Gods, the Drinking Songs--all incomplete, all abortive—all incomplete, all abortive because I though, like all abortionists, that what is not perfect had no real right to live. Things fit together. We knew that—it is the principle of magic. Two inconsequential things can combine together to become a consequence. This is true of poems too. A poem is never to be judged by itself alone. A poem is never by itself alone. This is the most important letter that you have ever received. Love, Jack

  9. 4 out of 5

    Xantha Page

    Attempting review: I bounced off this book initially (a while back) and almost didn't get through the first section covering his early poetry, what Spicer called his "one-night stands," meaning individual poems. While, glancing back at it, there is surely some good stuff in that section, it's just as surely apprentice work for what Spicer did beginning with After Lorca when he developed what he called the "book," his concept of the serial poem, which, to gloss the introduction's paraphrase of Spi Attempting review: I bounced off this book initially (a while back) and almost didn't get through the first section covering his early poetry, what Spicer called his "one-night stands," meaning individual poems. While, glancing back at it, there is surely some good stuff in that section, it's just as surely apprentice work for what Spicer did beginning with After Lorca when he developed what he called the "book," his concept of the serial poem, which, to gloss the introduction's paraphrase of Spicer's lecture on his friend Robin Blaser's description of the concept, is like going through a dark building room by room, turning on and off again the lights as you pass through each one: while the illumination is too brief and intermittent to get a reliable image of any one room, let alone components that would add up to a plan of the whole building, the disjunction is not absolute. With each flash, individual objects or arrangements of objects impress upon the mind and begin to communicate and resonate with each other. If this poetry is not "traditional" or even modernist poetic discourse, it's not a body of easy, atmospheric mood pieces either. Spicer's most accessible writings included here are his prose letters, from the letters addressed to the dead Lorca in After Lorca (who also provides a somewhat testy preface from beyond the grave) to the heartbreaking Letters to Will Alexander, and they provide a key to Spicer's highly idiosyncratic conception of poetry. To Spicer, poems are not a communication between the poet and the reader, nor between poets themselves. Poems only communicate with other poems. Therefore if the poet is merely a transmitter (as he was fond of claiming), it does not even have the consolation of serving the useful function of transmitting messages to other human beings. Poetry is in the air. It is something in which we can only participate at a remove. If this strikes you as a lonely point of view then I agree. However other people read it, this body of work strikes me as among the most abjectly lonely I've encountered. Its disjointed images and phrases form a poetry of miscommunication. Its proper names, drawn from literature, film, and Spicer's life, even attain a kind of objecthood, failing to function as 'people' or 'characters' and are instead subsumed into the body of the poetic utterance, which, as we know, is beyond us, ahuman. But there is also a sense of humor here, as the void in our hearts was being tickled. And as much as much as Spicer ranted against "beauty," his poems are very nice to read aloud.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ted Burke

    My Vocabulary Did This to Me The Collected Poems of Jack Spicer Edited by Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian (Wesleyan) I am just finishing the “must read” poetry volume of the year, “My Vocabulary Did this To Me”, an anticipated republication of the poems by the late Jack Spicer, edited by Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian, and I have to admit that Spicer’s writing has me momentarily forgetting my prejudice against poems about poetry and poets and allowing myself to be knocked by the author’s third-rail wit My Vocabulary Did This to Me The Collected Poems of Jack Spicer Edited by Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian (Wesleyan) I am just finishing the “must read” poetry volume of the year, “My Vocabulary Did this To Me”, an anticipated republication of the poems by the late Jack Spicer, edited by Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian, and I have to admit that Spicer’s writing has me momentarily forgetting my prejudice against poems about poetry and poets and allowing myself to be knocked by the author’s third-rail wit. A singular figure, fitting in well with the Beats, the New York School, nor the San Francisco Renaissance, Spicer’s poems were a set of marginalia at the edges of the principle discussion as to what poetry was and ought to be, and as becomes clear as we read, his counter assertions, his asides, his declarations had more self contained clarity and vision than much of the stuff he looked askance at. Interrogation of received notions was his on going theme, and ‘though the practice of making literary practice the unifying metaphor in a body of work tends to seal off poetry from an readership that could benefit from a skewed viewpoint—unlocking a door only to find another locked door, or a brick wall, ceases to be amusing once one begins to read poets for things other than status—Spicer rather positions the whole profession and the art as an item among a range of other activities individuals take on to make their daily life cohere with a faint purpose they might feel welling inside them. Spicer, in matters of money, sexuality, poetry, religion zeros on the neatly paired arrangements our language system indexes our hairiest ideas with and sniffs a rat when the description opts for the easily deployed adjectives, similes and conclusions that make the hours go faster. Thing Language This ocean, humiliating in its disguises Tougher than anything. No one listens to poetry. The ocean Does not mean to be listened to. A drop Or crash of water. It means Nothing. It Is bread and butter Pepper and salt. The death That young men hope for. Aimlessly It pounds the shore. White and aimless signals. No One listens to poetry. There is reservedly antagonistic undercurrent to Spicer’s work, the subtle and ironic derision of the language arts that, as he sees them practiced, is locked up in matters of petty matters of status, property, the ownership of ideas, the expansion of respective egos that mistake their basic cleverness for genius. The world, the external and physical realm that one cannot know but only describe with terms that continually need to be resuscitated, is, as we know, something else altogether that hasn’t the need for elaborate vocabularies that compare Nature and Reality with everything a poet can get his or her hands on. What this proves, Spicer thinks (it seems to me, in any event) is that we know nothing of the material we try to distill in verse; even our language is parted out from other dialogues. The Sporting Life The trouble with comparing a poet with a radio is that radios don't develop scar-tissue. The tubes burn out, or with a transistor, which most souls are, the battery or diagram burns out replacable or not replacable, but not like that punchdrunk fighter in a bar. The poet Takes too many messages. The right to the ear that floored him in New Jersey. The right to say that he stood six rounds with a champion. Then they sell beer or go on sporting commissions, or, if the scar tissue is too heavy, demonstrate in a bar where the invisible champions might not have hit him. Too many of them. The poet is a radio. The poet is a liar. The poet is a counterpunching radio. And those messages (God would not damn them) do not even know they are champions. Spicer is an interesting poet on several levels, all of them deep and rich with deposits that reward an earnest dig. He is , I think, on a par with Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams with the interest in grilling the elaborative infrastructure of how we draw or are drawn to specialized conclusions with the use of metaphor, and it is to his particular brilliance as a lyric poet, comparable to Frank O’Hara (a poet Spicer declared he didn’t care for, with O’Hara thinking much the same in kind) that the contradictions, competing desires and unexpected conundrums of investigating one’s verbal stream are made comprehensible to the senses, a joy to the ear. No one, really no one wrote as distinctly as the long obscure Spicer did, and editors Gizzi, Killian and publisher Wesleyan Press are to be thanked for restoring a major American voice to our shared canon.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Edita

    His ocean is different from my ocean, his moon is different from my moon, his love (oh, God the loss) is different from my love. In his world roads go somewhere and you walk with someone whose hand you can hold. I remember. In my world roads only go up and down and you are lucky if you can hold on to the road or even know that it is there. * I carry the No you gave me Clenched in my palm * The self is no longer real It is not like loneliness This big huge loneness. * Distances Impossible to be measured His ocean is different from my ocean, his moon is different from my moon, his love (oh, God the loss) is different from my love. In his world roads go somewhere and you walk with someone whose hand you can hold. I remember. In my world roads only go up and down and you are lucky if you can hold on to the road or even know that it is there. * I carry the No you gave me Clenched in my palm * The self is no longer real It is not like loneliness This big huge loneness. * Distances Impossible to be measured or walked over.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tosh

    Brilliant poetry and extremely essential must have.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Robert Lashley

    Spicer is ignored by many beat-o-phobes who see any one involved in the SF School, New York School, and Beats as part of the same gang of nonsense avant-gardeists. That is a god damm shame. I see his work as a progression of the conversation that Charles Olson started. One of the most moving subtexts of The Kingfishers was in the internal parodies of the crap pastoral poems so popular in American literature for a hundred years. Not just for it's snark, but it's underlying subtext, that the horro Spicer is ignored by many beat-o-phobes who see any one involved in the SF School, New York School, and Beats as part of the same gang of nonsense avant-gardeists. That is a god damm shame. I see his work as a progression of the conversation that Charles Olson started. One of the most moving subtexts of The Kingfishers was in the internal parodies of the crap pastoral poems so popular in American literature for a hundred years. Not just for it's snark, but it's underlying subtext, that the horrors of war and western civilization throughout history were so breathtakingly awful that to capture humanity in a soupy lyric language and imagery was dishonest. I see the best of Spicer, Robert Duncan and Robin Blaser as an attempt to create a language in poetry that responded to Olson's implied call, the need for a poet to have the RIGHT word instead of the most musical or comfortable one. "My Vocabulary Did This To Me" is carried by an fine ear and dexterity. There is no "spicer poem" in the book. Whether or not he in conventional free verse, form, prose poem or a open field lyric, his style (At his best) serves only the particular dynamic of the poem he is writing about. Even when poems don't work, it's a pleasure to read them, because you don't know what is going to come next. Are their misses in this book, and might they have been influenced by booze? Yes, but I'm not in the business of bean counting like that. There is a trove of great poetry in "vocabulary" and a lot of that he grappled with as an artist-America, sexuality, modern poetry, experimental dynamics, and a complex relationship with the lyric poets of the past( particularly Auden and Lorca)-all of it worth a serious readers time.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Christina M Rau

    This collection spans the career and intriguing life of Jack Spicer, and the title is, according to the book's notes, the last thing he said as he died. Quite dramatic. The collection travels into the absurd many times, and each time, it's brilliant (and mostly confusing, but still, brilliant). If you don't read it all, then read these gems: "Berkeley In Times of Plague," "A Girl's Song," "Portrait Artist As A Young Landscape," "A Lecture In Practical Aesthetics," "A Night In Four Parts," "Imagin This collection spans the career and intriguing life of Jack Spicer, and the title is, according to the book's notes, the last thing he said as he died. Quite dramatic. The collection travels into the absurd many times, and each time, it's brilliant (and mostly confusing, but still, brilliant). If you don't read it all, then read these gems: "Berkeley In Times of Plague," "A Girl's Song," "Portrait Artist As A Young Landscape," "A Lecture In Practical Aesthetics," "A Night In Four Parts," "Imaginary Elegies," "Psychoanalysis: An Elegy," "Train Song For Gary," "The Window Is A Sword," "They Murdered You...Kenneth Rexroth," "Birdland, California," "The Unvert Manifesto," "Poetry As Magic Workshop Survey," "For Jack," "For Willie," "For Nemmie," "Duet For A Chair and Table," "Billy the Kid," "Letters," "Imaginary Elegies" [again], "Coda" [the footnote], "Drugs" [the footnote], "Rimbaud Book I Chpt IV," "Wheelbarrow and Love Series," "The Birth of Venus," "Book of Gwenivere," "Golem #4," "Map Poems," and "Sporting Life." These titles alone indicate the sheer mass of objects, topics, and themes that run through the poetry.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey (Akiva) Savett

    I began reading Spicer and Robert Duncan and Frank Stanford all around the same time. I'm having surrealist overload. Though I hate to do this because Spicer has his own very unique voice, I think he'd be okay, were he here, with this comparison: Spicer's poetry is the love child of Whitman , Lorca, and Ginsburg. There is a yearning for the sublime and Spicer's own sense that he is multitudes that is present from Whitman. He's got Lorca's freedom with language and darkness; and finally, there's G I began reading Spicer and Robert Duncan and Frank Stanford all around the same time. I'm having surrealist overload. Though I hate to do this because Spicer has his own very unique voice, I think he'd be okay, were he here, with this comparison: Spicer's poetry is the love child of Whitman , Lorca, and Ginsburg. There is a yearning for the sublime and Spicer's own sense that he is multitudes that is present from Whitman. He's got Lorca's freedom with language and darkness; and finally, there's Ginsburg's raw sexuality and the shocking nakedness of Spicer's imagery. I didn't give this four or five stars because there are too many poems here which, for me, are simply too weird to get a hold on, or felt a little too shocking for the sake of shock. But that's not necessarily a red flag. That's the difference between an excellent collection and a transcendent one. The poems in After Lorca are worth the price of the book in themselves, particularly, the transcendent "Ode For Walt Whitman." The first half of this book is exponentially stronger than the second---the latter are the poems which Spicer claims came to him from Martians. You decide.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    Once Spicer's voice gets in yr head, it is impossible to get out.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    He had an idea about dictation, but for me the execution failed. I'd take O'Hara or Duncan over him.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kent Vashaw

    Some of my favorites on first readthrough: The Song of the Bird in the Loins Song for Bird and Myself The Unvert Manifesto and Other Papers... After Lorca Three Marxist Essays The Holy Grail

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ron

    So many great discoveries here, but "Any fool can get into an ocean ..." is a standout for me.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sean A.

    i'm not giving this text a rating because one minute i felt very close to loving the text and then shortly thereafter somewhat exacerbated by the obtuse bitterness of it. NEways, lets look at what Spicer is working with, in my opinion, since i've both read and listened to and really took to heart his lectures as a (slightly) younger poet. Spicer thinks of poetry as a series of, really, martian transmissions invading the poet's consciousness and compelling him to scribe these transmissions as po i'm not giving this text a rating because one minute i felt very close to loving the text and then shortly thereafter somewhat exacerbated by the obtuse bitterness of it. NEways, lets look at what Spicer is working with, in my opinion, since i've both read and listened to and really took to heart his lectures as a (slightly) younger poet. Spicer thinks of poetry as a series of, really, martian transmissions invading the poet's consciousness and compelling him to scribe these transmissions as poem. He also has a penchant for believing that poetry could also be closely analogous to spooks, more specifically an infamous incident involving WB Yeats' wife, in which, on a train, Yeats' wife basically started going crazy or losing her shit or whatever and muttering and moaning then she began to speak. Yeats' asked his wife what kind of message these invading spooks' were here to deliver, and she replied 'we are here to give metaphors to your poetry'. So there you have it, poetry demons as a precursor to Yeats' wife (and others') psychosis. What this essentially means is that Spicer is viewing poetry as a force coming from the exterior, the outside and thus we are at the mercy of these transmissions instead of our own interior and ever-suffering, feeling and precious emotions. Does Spicer deliver on his maxim in his own poetry? Well, yes and no. There are a lot of poems in here that seem to be evident of Spicer's internal precious language, specifically dealing with lovers and bitterness. Yet even these are fragmented and somewhat cold, sarcastically analyzed. Then there are the fragments and calloused transcriptions, all over the place, from conversations, to baseball standings to crass paraphrasings of old texts like Sir Gawain and the Green Night or other such grail legends. What Spicer wants to accomplish with all this is to make a poetry that is neither special nor underwhelming, to put it just so, at the level of lived consciousness. He mainly succeeds, the only pitfall for me is that his pervasive cynicism is less than becoming. Yet it's also authentic. However, we must ask ourselves, is his obtuseness also becoming of the level of consciousness and portrayal of the whiles of memory which Spicer is attempting to get across? Well once again, yes or no. He had some shining perfect lines in those poems, yet also lost me often with those previously described traits. Yet one thing that does come across in this collection is a sense of authenticity. I can't describe it, but he definitely has his own voice. This collection is always interesting, sometimes conversational and dryly charming, sometimes so cynical almost to be unappealing. Definitely a worthwhile read, yet I found myself picking it up sometimes honestly not out of eagerness but out of dedication to my own little project of reading what is really a very interesting of the life project of one Jack Spicer. Still...

  21. 4 out of 5

    M- S__

    I began reading this idly at about two in the morning. A huge mistake. Spicer's poetry is difficult to put down. I finished this book in a daze with a couple dozen nearly indecipherable notes scrawled into a notepad. This stuff works in mysterious ways. It does all the wrong things and still keeps you engaged. Jack Spicer is rightly excluded from the big poetry movements of his era (I think) partly because he so often foregoes real artistry for some pretty bald, ugly, and clearly autobiographica I began reading this idly at about two in the morning. A huge mistake. Spicer's poetry is difficult to put down. I finished this book in a daze with a couple dozen nearly indecipherable notes scrawled into a notepad. This stuff works in mysterious ways. It does all the wrong things and still keeps you engaged. Jack Spicer is rightly excluded from the big poetry movements of his era (I think) partly because he so often foregoes real artistry for some pretty bald, ugly, and clearly autobiographical grudges. It's often difficult to determine the audience for some of this work. He is constantly in conversation. Sometimes with himself. Sometimes with dead idols. Sometimes bitterly with contemporaries. Spicer's poetry is fundamentally lonely from its beginning. It circles round and round, stopping only at the places where he knows he will be safe. Many of these poems deal with the vast and permanent ocean, a place where all of his poems bubble and bounce off each other. Or they deal with the moon, the large yellow eye of God, watching and recording but never playing anything back. It's a record not a memory. And all of those conversations that pass as poems and particularly the prose poetry feel like the writing of a man desperate to connect in a meaningful way, but I don't think it ever really happened like he imagined it could. The most powerful expression of this comes in the Imaginary Elegies where he laments that he would rather just write about the sun and the water in California because everyone beside him in his bed at night will inevitably be gone by morning. This guy is a heartbreaker of a poet, but spends a little too much time writing about writing or writing at someone or something in artless anger to earn a full 5 star rating. Still very much worth the read.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    How could I give this 4 stars? Am I some kind of idiot? Well, I think this reflects my frustration with collecteds in general. This was my first introduction to Spicer and I was struck by how familiar his voice was to me already--filtered as it has been to various degrees through many, many contemporary voices via the speaky casualness of the line, the turns of the language into pranky nonsense, sharp juxtapositions between high and low speech -- "Dead branches. Leaves / unable even to grimly se How could I give this 4 stars? Am I some kind of idiot? Well, I think this reflects my frustration with collecteds in general. This was my first introduction to Spicer and I was struck by how familiar his voice was to me already--filtered as it has been to various degrees through many, many contemporary voices via the speaky casualness of the line, the turns of the language into pranky nonsense, sharp juxtapositions between high and low speech -- "Dead branches. Leaves / unable even to grimly seize their rightful place in the tree / of the heart / Annoys me / Arthur, king and future king / A noise in the head of the prince. Something in God-language. / In spite of all this horseshit, this uncomfortable music." This familiarity made my reading of large swathes of the first 2/3rds of the book underwhelming. And what distinguishes Spicer from many of his contemporary interpreters (who often mix these habits also with mild surrealism whereas Spicer's images tend to still come from the world), is his pursuit of a theme(?) over the sequence of several poems, providing a baseline from which he can improvise away from and then return. His works work so damn well in holding each other up, that I hated to see anything missing. And I didn't really come to miss what was missing until I read The Holy Grail, Golem, and Book of Magazine Verse. Cheryl and I walked down the super shitty boardwalk at Ocean City reading "Seven Poems for the Vancouver Festival" and they knocked us out. --"A perfect diamond with a right field, center field, left field of / felled logs spreading vaguely outward. Four sides each / Facets of the diamond. / We shall build our city backward from each baseline / extending like a square ray from each distance--you from / the ..."

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ezra

    growing up in berkeley, and having some adolescent interest in both romantic and modernist poetry, i should have heard of jack spicer. but i hadn't. i cannot explain this. anyways i ran into his poem "Orfeo" somewhere (on a fucking bus maybe ?!?!) and i immediately bought this on the internet. it is great. it is a collection of all JS's published poetry as well as a lot of notebook stuff; as with all such completist editions, it contains a lot of things that i'm sure the author would never have growing up in berkeley, and having some adolescent interest in both romantic and modernist poetry, i should have heard of jack spicer. but i hadn't. i cannot explain this. anyways i ran into his poem "Orfeo" somewhere (on a fucking bus maybe ?!?!) and i immediately bought this on the internet. it is great. it is a collection of all JS's published poetry as well as a lot of notebook stuff; as with all such completist editions, it contains a lot of things that i'm sure the author would never have wanted to go into print. i'm still glad to have this opportunity to indulge in unabashed, gay-60's, romantic, lyrical-yet-analytical poetry. there is irony in there but it is so different from our contemporary, infinitely re-reflected, image-conscious variety. this poetry has a great sense of intimacy, you can tell it was written for friends, not for an audience, not for the internet. none of the irony or erudition prevents jack spicer from acheiving total honesty and some of the most indelible images i've personally ever read ("i throw a naked eagle down your throat.") insipring.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jay

    This guy is weirder than he reads at first. His poems, really, are as lyrical and joy- and loss-driven as any great poet's, but his interior patterning-- his dream- language-- was morphemes and phonemes, rather than stone and river. He found by pure feel what language poets and ethnopoetics poets and Black Mountaineeers found by theory or by less humble interior journeys. The whole set called Homage to Creeley and the one called Language completely flattened me. Wonderful.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Wendy

    I wasn't familiar with the poetry of Jack Spicer, so this has been a treat. Take a look especially at "After Lorca," in which he invents a letter from Lorca (actually a forward that Lorca is supposed to have written), as well as letters to Lorca and "translations" of Lorca poems. Read too his "Letter to Robin" in "Admonitions," in which he calls for poetry that's connected, poems that "echo and re-echo" against each other rather than individual lonely lyrics.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Carmen

    This is great poetry. It's all (well not all, but largely) about how annoying it is to write, how the words are mortal enemies sometimes, and how it never works out like you plan. About the irritating beauty in it. I wish I could talk to Spicer, for ten minutes. Or more accurately, commiserate with him. He seems like a guy I'd like.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    Robert and I just got to peak through this fresh from the printers at Peter's house and it is great! I'm especially excited about his letters that have been included and so many gorgeous poems that are not anywhere else. Lovely!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Chad

    I'm never actually sure how much I like him, but I am always put off guard, amused, intrigued, and frustrated with this collection. If nothing else he's a force, and I'm thankful that Gizzi got this into my hands.

  29. 4 out of 5

    James Debruicker

    I picked this up EXCLUSIVELY on the basis of the title, and was pleasantly surprised. Some funny poems, some sad poems, some really experimental poems, and a wonderfully confused letter from Lorca. Definitely worth checking out.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Terence

    This took me a while to read, the language is so rich and poems kind of sneak up on you. You'll remember a line months later. 1000 thank yous to Kevin Killian for the introduction and the gift. What a great collection.

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