Jack Spicer Essay - Critical Essays


Jack Spicer wrote a poetry of imagistic and conceptual juxtaposition reminiscent, at times, of Dadaist randomness. He considered true poetry to be “dictated,” and thus removed from the conscious control of the poet. Spicer’s own poetry never completely lacks sense or meaning, however. Spicer believed that the “dictated” poem of necessity employs the materials present in the poet’s mind. Since the poet’s understanding of the world is part of that valid source-material, that understanding might be expected to appear in the dictated work. The poet’s understanding does not shape that work, however. Spicer argued that personal experience provides the material or vocabulary for poetry even while the conscious mind provides a less than ideal means for transforming that material into poetry.

In a real sense, Spicer embraced the traditional notion of the Muse, without using the term and without arriving at traditional results in his poetry. He felt and expressed the sense of there being an “Other” who dictated his poems, whom he sometimes humorously identified as a Martian. Although Spicer is often viewed as a Surrealist, this attitude toward “dictation” sets his works apart from those of earlier Surrealist poets. To the degree that he was successfully receptive to such dictation, his poems could be regarded as objective but nonanalytical in nature, in common with Surrealists. His poems are also intentional, however, with their intent often arising from a strong impulse to teach.

After Lorca

Spicer wrote the poems in his first book using the ideas he introduced and developed during his 1957 workshop. In addition to dictation, he arrived at the idea of the poem-series, or “book,” which is a larger form that incorporates and helps give meaning to the individual, component poems. His first such grouping, After Lorca, uses Federico García Lorca’s poems as a jumping-off point. The book begins with a fictitious introduction that is presented as having been written by García Lorca himself, twenty years after his own death. Spicer then presents an extravaganza of erratically bold and freewheeling “translations,” intermixed with a series of letters Spicer imagined writing to García Lorca.

The pseudo-translations give Spicer an opportunity to salute such varied figures as Paul Verlaine, Walt Whitman, and Buster Keaton, as well as García Lorca. A freshness of invention animates even the briefest of the poems, while the imaginary letters to García Lorca state some of the poet’s ambitions: “I would like to make poems out of real objects. . . . 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.” In this “correspondence” with García Lorca, Spicer plays with the meanings of the word “correspond”: “Things do not connect; they correspond. That is what makes it...

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