Monday, March 29, 2010

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

Spicer, Jack. My Vocabulary Did This To Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 2008.

Collecting both scattered early poems and the entirety of Spicer's published work, this volume presents a nearly complete representation of the poet's career as a publishing poet. Aesthetically, Spicer enlists many different forms while exploring the possibilities of verse. One such example is After Lorca; the text contains both letters to and from the deceased Lorca, as well as “translations” of his poems. The fidelity of the “translations,” of course, is suspect, and the dead writer vocalizes his suspicions when he “writes”: “Mr. Spicer seems to derive pleasure in inserting or substituting...words which completely change the...meaning of the poem...Finally, there are an equal number of poems that I did not write at all” (107). The conversation that Spicer initiates with Lorca, then, has more to do with entering into a particular tradition, or “generations of different poets in different countries patiently telling the same story, writing the same poem, gaining or losing something with each transformation” (110-1). The epistolary form also surfaces in Letters to James Alexander and Helen: A Revision, just to name a few. Spicer incorporates the dramatic form into his poetry as well, including short plays into the fabric of After Lorca, Helen: A Revision, and “The Unvert Manifesto and Other Papers...” But, as far as form, these were not the most radical departures the poet experimented with. For example, he wrote poems in the form of questionnaires, manifestos, textbooks, footnotes, and “fake novels.” Most, if not all of the aforementioned forms make liberal use of prose poetry. Reoccurring tropes within Spicer's poems include the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, the moon, ghosts, the ocean, and the heart. While many of these tropes had been employed quite a bit before Spicer began writing, he discovered unique manners to incorporate them into his texts, often by a) juxtaposing them with “obscene” words such as “cocksucker,” “shit,” “fuck,” etc., or b) altering them ever so slightly to become tropes for homosexuality, usually filtered through camp. Spicer also writes meta-poetically, especially within his “Textbook Of Poetry” and Language. For example, in the former he writes: “The ghosts the poems were written for are the ghosts of the poems. We have it secondhand. They cannot hear the noise they have been making” (300), or, as in the latter: “We make up a different language for poetry/ And for the heart—ungrammatical./ It is not that the name of the town changes/...But that syntax changes” (390). Other aesthetic variants are extended parenthetical asides and breaking lines on prefixes and suffixes.

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