The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Phonemics” is in serial form; it consists of six related poems, varying in length between eleven and twenty lines. The title alludes to the study of language sounds, and it helps bring to the foreground the materiality of language in this poem as in other works of Jack Spicer.

Spicer was a professional linguist, and “Phonemics” is one of seven such serial poems in a 1965 book entitled Language. The book jacket of Language consists of the title page from an issue of a linguistics journal of the same name, an issue that contains Spicer’s sole professional publication. Obviously, the poet wanted to remind his readers that poems, whatever their sentiments, consist of language, that the words one uses govern the way one thinks, and that the ways that one’s culture provides for putting words together delineate the boundaries of what it is possible to “say” with words.

It would be misleading to term this a first-person poem, for three of the six sections do not contain the word “I.” The form of address is rather that of a lecturer who is being objective concerning a situation. That said, however, it should be noted that the voice remains thoroughly idiosyncratic, completely identifiable as Spicer’s idiolect, so that even though the first-person pronoun, in either subjective or objective case, seldom occurs, the presence of a single speaker can be felt throughout—the presence, as the poet and critic Ron...

(The entire section is 555 words.)