My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer

Jack Spicer, Author , edited by Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian. Wesleyan $35 (496p) ISBN 978-0-8195-6887-8

The Los Angeles–born Spicer died young, at age 40 in 1965, of acute alcoholism. In his lifetime, he published six books of poems with tiny presses. Though he was influential, he operated in a small circle, mostly in Berkeley. It was at the Six Gallery he cofounded that Ginsberg gave the first reading of “Howl” in 1955; he was very close to the poets Robert Duncan and Robin Blaser, but as the editors of this extraordinary collection point out, “Spicer was never fully embraced within the official culture or counter-culture of the period.” This remarkably fresh assemblage, which gathers from two earlier posthumous (and now out-of-print) collections and adds many unpublished poems and sequences, will dramatically expand Spicer's influence. Like the work of Emily Dickinson and W.B. Yeats, Spicer's poems still seem to come from somewhere else (in fact, Spicer claimed he received Martian signals). But what a reader finds here is a poet deeply engaged with language, a gay man consumed by desperate affairs of the heart and flesh, a lover of jazz and baseball and weather, and possessed of the tenderest lyricisms and biting wit. His After Lorca series still shocks with its bold presumption of the dead Lorca's voice; many of the previously unpublished “one-night stand” poems are marvelous (see “Any fool can get into an ocean...”) and the Letters to James Alexander , found by the editors amid the Spicer collection at Berkeley, is Spicer at his best—rendering letters as poems, cauterizing the wound of a love affair: “Dear James/ It is absolutely clear and sunny as if neither a cloud nor a moon had ever been invented.” (Dec.)

Reviewed on: 10/20/2008
Release date: 00/00/0000
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 465 pages - 978-0-8195-7090-1
Open Ebook - 508 pages - 978-0-8195-7109-0
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