|Photo from the collection of Lewis Ellingham and Kevin Killian|
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!
PSYCHOANALYSIS: AN ELEGY 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.