Jack Spicer

Do you believe in Martians? Jack Spicer once said that "Martians" speak to him, and he transmits their language into poetry. Jack Spicer (1925-1965) was an American poet credited with the foundations of the Berkeley Renaissance, also known as the San Francisco Renaissance.

Jack Spicer Jack Spicer

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Contents
Table of contents

    Jack Spicer, San Francisco, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Jack Spicer was part of the San Francisco Renaissance.

    Jack Spicer is known for his poetic writing style known as dictated poetry and has written famous poems such as "Psychoanalysis: An Elegy" (2008) and "A Concord Hymn" (2008). He also famously wrote the book After Lorca (1957).

    A Biography of Jack Spicer

    Jack Spicer (born John Lester Spicer) was born on January 30, 1925 in Los Angeles. He had a fairly uneventful childhood, and Spicer attended the University of the Redlands. Upon graduating, Spicer worked as a private investigator. In 1945, Spicer moved to Berkeley where he lived with the science fiction writer, Philip K. Dick. There Spicer began doing research at the University of California and began to publish his poetry. His research was related to the linguistics of Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse. While living in Berkeley, Spicer, alongside Robert Duncan and Robin Blaser, joined the Berkeley Renaissance. During this time, he wrote the poetry collection One Night Stand and Other Poems (1980).

    The Berkeley Renaissance, also known as the San Francisco Renaissance, began in the 1940s by Kenneth and Madeline Gleason and merged with Jack Spicer, Robert Duncan, and Robin Blaser. The group made its debut at the First Festival of Modern Poetry at the Lucien Labaudt Gallery in San Francisco in 1947. The group emphasized the importance of returning to formalism and the principles of modernism. Literary styles varied among the poets, but they all believed in the uniting principle of writing poetry that reacted to current events such as climate change.

    In 1954, Spicer founded the now famous Six Gallery, which is related to the founding of the Beat Movement, despite Spicer's dislike of the Beat poets. For a brief period, Spicer moved to the east coast but moved back to the west in 1956. Now living in San Francisco, Spicer began to write the book After Lorca, which spoke on a new direction of poetry influenced by Federico Garcia Lorca's "cante jondo", a type of poetry influenced by Flamenco music. After 1957, Spicer's poetry became known as dictated poetry. Dictated poetry, according to Spicer's belief, states that the poet is a host, and can express language that is given to them from a sort of spirit world, rather than self-expressing the poet's thoughts.

    On August 17, 1965, Jack Spicer fell into a pre-hepatic coma caused by alcohol addiction. He died that day at the San Francisco General Hospital. In 1975, The Collected Books of Jack Spicer was published, which contained Spicer's poetry from 1957 onward and continued Spicer's legacy and impact.

    Books by Jack Spicer

    A majority of Jack Spicer's poetry books were published posthumously. His most famous books include One Night Stand and Other Poems, After Lorca, My Vocabulary did this to me: Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (2008) and The Collected Books of Jack Spicer.

    After Lorca (1957)

    After Lorca is a book by Jack Spicer that includes English translations of Lorca's poems as well as poems written by Spicer in the style of Lorca. The book also contains a series of letters in which Spicer imagines conversations with Lorca about poetry. In this Post-Modernist book, the dead poet's words are brought to life with an introduction "written" by Lorca.

    Post-Modernism is a literary movement from the late 20th century that values subjectivism, the absence of absolute meaning and reason, metafiction, and an emphasis on the different perspectives in which one can tell a story.

    In it, Lorca describes how he sent Spicer poetry Lorca would've liked to have published after his death. Spicer's concept of Didactic poetry is fully played out in this book, as the poetry of Lorca is told to Spicer, who acts as the host, and Spicer writes them down for Lorca. In this way, Spicer has no self-expression and is merely acting as Lorca's physical form.

    My Vocabulary did this to me: Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (2008)

    It was recorded that Spicer's last words were, "My vocabulary did this to me. Your love will let you go on," which is where the title of this poetry collection originated from. My Vocabulary did this to me: Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer contains numerous poems written by Spicer after 1957 that reveal his nature. As mentioned earlier, Spicer believed poets were merely transmitters of language sent by what he called "Martians".

    Jack Spicer, Vintage Radios, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Jack Spicer believed poets were like radios transmitting signals.

    In the poetry of this collection, the tone of each poem varies from moody to lonely, to patient, and within each poem, a sense of Spicer's personality can be found, despite his belief that poetry was not self-expressive. Furthermore, his poetry ranges in style within this collection from prose to other traditional forms of poetry.

    No one

    Has lots of them

    Lays or friends or anything

    That can make a little light in all that darkness…"

    ("For Hal", Lines 1-15)

    In this snippet taken from a poem from My Vocabulary did this to me: Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer, the reader can perceive the lonely tone of the speaker. Loneliness is imagined as darkness to which nothing can bring enough light to brighten it. Spicer is relaying the message that everyone is lonely, and we try to fill the void with friends or food, but in the end, nothing will change the person's state of being. It is a fatalistic point of view.

    Poems by Jack Spicer

    Spicer was initially against publishing his poetry. Eventually, due to financial purposes, Spicer began to publish his work, but he did stand firm that he would never copyright his poems. Spicer wrote many poems during his short lifetime. His poetry was what he called dictated poetry, and he believed poetry to be magic. His poetry takes source material found in the world and uses language and vocabulary to hint at a more in-depth meaning for the object. In this way, Spicer's poetry is related to Dadaism.

    Dadaism was an art movement that was a reaction to the extreme violence of World War 2 that negates traditional values, focuses on irrationality and randomness, and expresses the freedom and spontaneity of the artist. Spicer's poetry mirrors Dadaism in its lack of rationality and its randomness, while also expressing the spontaneity of the poet's transmitted words. Famous Dadaists include Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, and Max Ernst.

    Let's take a closer look at three of Spicer's most famous poems: "A Concord Hymn," "Psychoanalysis: An Elegy", and "A Diamond" (2008). Each poem comes from the poetry collection, My Vocabulary did this to me: The Collected Poems of Jack Spicer.

    "A Concord Hymn" (2008)

    "A Concord Hymn" is a poem written in iambic trimeter and contains 10 lines.

    Iambic trimeter is a meter of poetry that contains three iambs per line which is equal to two metrical feet. The first syllable is unstressed, and the second syllable is stressed.

    Here is the beginning of the poem:
    Your jokeIs like a lakeThat lies there without any thought…" (Lines 1-3).

    The first three lines immediately set the tone for the poem. The speaker holds a sarcastic tone and tells the "you" in the poem, that the joke they had just spoken is substanceless. The speaker emphasizes the mindlessness and carelessness of the joke by using a simile to compare it to a thoughtless lake and an extended metaphor that does the same.

    An extended metaphor is a type of metaphor that spreads over multiple lines or sections of poetry or prose. A metaphor is the comparison of two unrelated concepts to symbolically make a point.

    "Psychoanalysis: An Elegy" (2008)

    "Psychoanalysis: An Elegy" is a poem in which the speaker is asked repeatedly, "What are you thinking about?" and the speaker responds with whatever random thought is on his mind. It mirrors the way psychoanalysis is done. An elegy is a type of poem that is a serious reflection on life and is usually a lament for the dead. Therefore, this elegy is a serious reflection on the thoughts of the speaker and what value they hold.

    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. HighwaysTraveling up and down her skinLong empty highwaysWith the moon chasing jackrabbits across themOn hot summer nights."(Stanza 3, Lines 32-38)

    For example, the speaker is asked a third time what they are thinking about. In the prior two stanzas, the speaker had been thinking about the deadly heat of California's summers, which is what he returns to in the last stanza. However, in the third stanza, the speaker starts talking about a woman and her body, which he compares to California and its natural landscape. The poem reflects that the mind will unconsciously reveal its deepest thoughts with enough probing.

    "A Diamond" (2008)

    "A Diamond" begins by stating that the poem is a translation for "Robert Jones". This is about Spicer's belief that the poet is like a radio transmitting a signal. In this case, the speaker is transmitting a message to Robert Jones.

    The universe falls apart and discloses a diamondTwo words called seagull are peacefully floating out where the waves are.The dog is dead there with the moon, with the branches, with my nakednessAnd there is nothing in the universe like diamondNothing in the whole mind."(Stanza 6, Lines 13-19)

    The poem relates a series of random images: a diamond, a moon, dogs, and a seagull. In the final stanza, the objects come together irrationally to create an in-depth meaning for the poem. In this way, it does seem like the speaker is saying random messages transmitted to him with the final stanza being his translation of those random messages. The final message can be interpreted as a description of a surrounding: two seagulls floating on water and a dead dog in the moonlight near the naked speaker. Then, the speaker relates the universe to the mind, in which a diamond sits. The diamond is representative of a precious, unique thought that sits in the mind of a poet.

    The Writing Style of Jack Spicer

    Jack Spicer's writing style is complicated, but his unique way of expressing language makes his poetry stand out. His poetry is formulaic in the sense that his poetry will point to materials that are resting in his mind and are then spoken through a transmission.

    Jack Spicer, Pen Writing, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Jack Spicer has a unique, seemingly random writing style.

    The words may seem random and irrational, but they always have a more profound meaning. Spicer also employed many traditional literary techniques in his work such as metaphors, similes, and anaphora. He also includes vivid imagery that is usually related to a series of random objects present in the poet's mind.

    Quotes by Jack Spicer

    Let's take a closer look at quotes written by Jack Spicer that will provide better insight into his writing style and poetry as a whole.

    Dear Lorca,

    When I translate one of your poems and I come across words I do not understand, I always guess at their meanings. I am inevitably right. A really perfect poem (no one yet has written one) could be perfectly translated by a person who did not know one word of the language it was written in. A really perfect poem has an infinitely small vocabulary." (After Lorca, Second Letter to Federico Garcia Lorca)

    In this quote from Spicer's book, After Lorca, the reader can see the intimate relationship Spicer has crafted with the poet, Federico Garcia Lorca, who had been dead for nearly 20 years. The concept of the book is that Lorca is speaking through Spicer to translate and compose poetry he didn't have a chance to while he was alive. Here, Spicer speaks about having the ability to translate poems without understanding the meanings of the words, because he understands that perfect poetry is made up of a small vocabulary. It is an interesting statement on the nature of poetry from the perspective of Spicer.

    Imagine LuciferAn angel without angelnessAn applePlucked clear by will of taste, color,Strength, beauty, roundness, seedAbsent of all God painted, present everythingAn apple is."(Lines 1-7)

    In this poem "Imagine Lucifer" (2008) by Spicer, Spicer is comparing the angel Lucifer to an apple that has been stripped of all its attributes.

    A poemThat has revised itself out of soundImagine, rhyme, concordanceAbsent of all God spoke of, present everythingA poem is."(Lines 10-14)

    Then, in the same poem, Spicer goes on to compare Lucifer stripped of his "angelness" to a poem that has been revised so much it is no longer a poem. In this extended metaphor and allusion to the Biblical story of the fall of Lucifer, Spicer is making a statement that the best, most beautiful, and strong poetry is poetry that hasn't been revised too much to fit expected constructs.

    Jack Spicer - Key takeaways

    • Jack Spicer is a Post-Modernist American poet known for forming the foundations for the Berkeley Renaissance, also known as the San Francisco Renaissance.
    • Jack Spicer wrote what he called "dictated poetry" that was transmitted to him by "Martians", spirits, and ghosts.
    • Jack Spicer wrote many books on poetry, such as After Lorca and had posthumous poetry collections published such My Vocabulary did this to me: The Collected Poems of Jack Spicer.
    • Jack Spicer is famous for poems such as "A Concord Hymn," "Psychoanalysis: An Elegy," and "A Diamond."
    • Jack Spicer died at the age of 40 due to his alcohol addiction, but his impact on poetry has lasted for decades.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Jack Spicer

    How old is Jack Spicer? 

    Jack Spicer was 40 years old when he died in 1965.

    Who is Jack Spicer? 

     Jack Spicer (1925-1965) was an American poet credited with the foundations of the Berkeley Renaissance, also known as the San Francisco Renaissance.

    What happened to Jack Spicer?

    On August 17, 1965, Jack Spicer fell into a pre-hepatic coma caused by alcohol addiction. He died that day at the San Francisco General Hospital.

    Where is Jack Spicer from? 

    Jack Spicer is from Los Angeles.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What literary movement is Spicer associated with?

    True or False: The poet's interest in psychoanalysis and psychology likely influenced the poem.

    True or False: The poem is written in free verse.

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