Friday, April 06, 2012

Poem: Jack Spicer

Photo from the collection of Lewis Ellingham and Kevin Killian
I am, as I noted, trying to feature poets I have not blogged before, and poems on poetry in its many aspects. Here today is a poet I started to read years ago, but only recently have delved more deeply into, Jack Spicer (1925-1965). He was a magus, a poet whose influence as a craftsman, lyricist, demiurge, and teacher touched many poets, from peers like Robert Duncan (who got him to come out) and Robin Blaser to students like John Wieners and Jack Gilbert. He also was often involved in significant poetry movements, like the Berkeley Renaissance, and then the subsequent revival of poetry across the bay in San Francisco.

He also was a co-founder of the 6 Gallery, where Allen Ginsberg gave his legendary reading of Howl. (Note to readers: there's a free copy of that book if you can answer the question I posted in the blogpost "Neuroaesthetics, Part II").  Spicer also had a hard time dealing with university bureaucracies and, to put it mildly, fellow poets, which meant that he could not keep jobs, brilliant though he was, and he drank too much for his own good, leading to his early death. We still have his poetry, which casts a subtle but increasingly strong spell the longer you--I--read it. Here is a poem about a topic that can easily become quite trite. He shows how to make it not so. Enjoy!

by Jack Spicer

What are you thinking about?

I am thinking of an early summer.
I am thinking of wet hills in the rain
Pouring water.  Shedding it
Down empty acres of oak and manzanita
Down to the old green brush tangled in the sun,
Greasewood, sage, and spring mustard.
Or the hot wind coming down from Santa Ana
Driving the hills crazy,
A fast wind with a bit of dust in it
Bruising everything and making the seed sweet.
Or down in the city where the peach trees
Are awkward as young horses,
And there are kites caught on the wires
Up above the street lamps,
And the storm drains are all choked with dead branches.

What are you thinking?

I think that I would like to write a poem that is slow as a summer
As slow getting started
As 4th of July somewhere around the middle of the second stanza
After a lot of unusual rain
California seems long in the summer.
I would like to write a poem as long as California
And as slow as a summer.
Do you get me, Doctor?  It would have to be as slow
As the very tip of summer.
As slow as the summer seems
On a hot day drinking beer outside Riverside
Or standing in the middle of a white-hot road
Between Bakersfield and Hell
Waiting for Santa Claus.

What are you thinking now?

I’m thinking that she is very much like California.
When she is still her dress is like a roadmap.  Highways
Traveling up and down her skin
Long empty highways
With the moon chasing jackrabbits across them
On hot summer nights.
I am thinking that her body could be California
And I a rich Eastern tourist
Lost somewhere between Hell and Texas
Looking at a map of a long, wet, dancing California
That I have never seen.
Send me some penny picture-postcards, lady,
Send them.
One of each breast photographed looking
Like curious national monuments,
One of your body sweeping like a three-lane highway
Twenty-seven miles from a night’s lodging
In the world’s oldest hotel.

What are you thinking?

I am thinking of how many times this poem
Will be repeated.  How many summers
Will torture California
Until the damned maps burn
Until the mad cartographer
Falls to the ground and possesses
The sweet thick earth from which he has been hiding.

What are you thinking now?

I am thinking that a poem could go on forever.

Copyright © Jack Spicer, "Psychoanalysis: An Elegy," from My Vocabulary Did This To Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer, Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian, editors. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2008. Used by permission.

1 comment:

  1. Aha!

    I wondered if you'd post one of his baseball poems. Spicer really was a master of the everyday, linked to but quite unlike WCW. And the absurd.