Loads of Learned Lumber

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

_My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer_

EDITORS PETER GIZZI and Kevin Killian have done an outstanding job here -- the two poets make better scholars than most scholars. The introduction is illuminating but brief, the bibliographical apparatus clear and complete, the annotations succinct and free of self-indulgence, the arrangement of poems logical, uncluttered, unfussy.

This will perforce be the Spicer volume to consult for the foreseeable future, and it will live up to that responsibility beautifully, I imagine. I have to admit a pang, though, at the thought that there will likely be no reprinting of Robin Blaser's edition, The Collected Books of Jack Spicer.

The book was an intriguing physical object all by itself. Enigmatically blurbless, with that not-quite-discernible image embossed on the cover, and "Jack Spicer" in big red letters spaced vertically on the spine. The long, intriguingly unfathomable essay by Blaser, esoteric and intimate at once, placed after the poems, with the clear message that you should read the poems first. All the weird lore of the appendices, the correspondence with Duncan, the workshop application, the Unvert manifesto. The book was a one-off, resembling nothing in one's experience, like the poems themselves, like Spicer.

I'm keeping mine around, in short, but even so I celebrate the Gizzi & Killian and am grateful to have it. Besides all the pre-After Lorca work, we have "Letters to Jack Alexander," "Helen: A Revision," "Three Marxist Essays," and "Golem," all mature work, all revealing. "Helen" in particular seems to pull together what had seemed to me some loose threads, and the fifth letter to Alexander seems almost a manifesto: "We must learn that our lips are not our own."

I have a suggestion to make on the note to one of the previously uncollected poems, "They Murdered You: An Elegy on the Death of Kenneth Rexroth." The editors write that the poem is "parodic of Ginsberg's Howl," which I would grant it is, but I suspect it is also a satire of Rexroth's somewhat bathetic elegy for Dylan Thomas, "Thou Shalt Not Kill." The first part of that poem, Rexroth thundering at the grey flannel suits as if their stultifying conformity and not confirmed alcoholism did Thomas in, is just the kind of bohemian pontification that Spicer twits in his poem.

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