Friday, April 26, 2013

National Poetry Month: Jack Spicer

Jack Spicer
30 January, 1925 - 17 August, 1965

"Sporting Life"
(Jack Spicer)

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

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.


"Sporting Life" appears in The Collected Books of Jack Spicer (Black Sparrow Press). Several of his books were published only posthumously; many of his poems were either withheld or appeared during his lifetime in small poetry zines. The poetry journal that Spicer briefly published in mimeograph went by the suggestive initial, J, a mere letter away from the autobiographical I. 

He had highbrow and pop obsessions — baseball, Rimbaud, Greek mythology, Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus films -- but his poetry was often deliberately awkward, often with a break in the middle of a word that threatens to annul its meaning, “In- / Ability,” “Limit- / Less,” “No- / Body.” In the book After Lorca, he includes fairly orthodox translations of a smattering of Lorca’s poems, with some distinctive Spicer poetics mixed in:

"I yell 'Shit' down a cliff at an ocean. Even in my lifetime the immediacy of that word will fade. It will be as dead as 'Alas.' But if I put the real cliff and the real ocean into the poem, the word 'Shit' will ride along with them, travel the time-machine until cliffs and oceans disappear …. Words are what sticks to the real…. The perfect poem has an infinitely small vocabulary."

In 2010 Wesleyan Poetry Series published an anthology edited by Kevin Killian and Peter Gizzi, My Vocabulary Did This To Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer.

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