For them, as Eliot explains, “there is only the trying / The rest is not our business”. Why do they do it? Certainly not for money the epithet “best-selling poet” brings a wry smile to their lips. Fame? Not quite. Immortality, however, has its profound attractions. John Milton wrote, modestly, to a school friend: “I am thinking of immortality.” And he got it.
“I am writing the best poems of my life; they will make my name,” wrote Sylvia Plath, only weeks before she died. “The woman is perfected” is the chilling first line in Edge in which she became “one of those… great classical heroines”, according to poet Robert Lowell. Alas, the problem with immortality is that it is awarded posthumously.
Plath died virtually unknown, as did poor Keats, who believed that his name was “writ in water”. Shelley, who drowned a short time later (a book of Keats in his back pocket), died with most of his work unpublished “Then, what is life?” was the last line he ever wrote.
It’s a prophetic line, because it is in pursuit of the answer to that searing question that the poet lives and works. The heroism involved lies in the desire to penetrate “the sacred mystery of the universe” which Thomas Carlyle believed was the essence of the poet’s journey to the interior.
They are sent to make it more impressively known to us, he said, and thus their work belongs to all time. Indeed they speak to us more powerfully through the centuries than do novelists or playwrights whose work is often more worldly and therefore more rooted in its particular moment.
Poets deserve our thanks for their dedication to the craft of
capturing and preserving experience
Image via OMI
In the ’60s a great many poets were working very hard to break through poetry’s received tonalities and modes of address, but Spicer went at it in a way that undermined even the pieties of the avant-garde. It seemed there were things that only Jack Spicer would put in a poem, and these turned out to be a whole category of syntactical fake-outs and parodistic distortions, deliberately frustrated expectations and mood-changing intrusions. Was that last bit a joke or a prayer, an outburst of self-pity or something more like savage mockery? Or were all these surface skitterings and chasms merely traces of the earthling Jack Spicer being moved around the board by the entity transmitting the message, a message whose unmediated significance would be revealed only in the original Martian? “If this is dictation, it is driving / Me wild.”Spicer’s sound is finally as naggingly persistent as the surf that haunts his work, as in these lines from “Thing Language“:
This ocean, humiliating in its disguises
Tougher than anything.
No one listens to poetry. The ocean
Does not mean to be listened to
It pounds the shore. White and aimless signals. No
One listens to poetry.
Jacks are figures of no small contradiction, and Jack Spicer was, true to his name, a poet of contradiction.
If nothing happens it is possible
To make things happen
Human history shows this
And an ape
Is likely (presently) to be an angel.
At the heart of his work is a paradox: Spicer means to produce a “pure poetry” that is self-sufficient, magical and ecstatic, yet he freely draws from his own relationships, his obsessions and interests, his thoughts and fantasies and wishes and swoons. He published his work in his lifetime only in small editions barely distributed outside San Francisco (and even in the city he sometimes avoided major poetry bookstores like Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights).
via Open Letters
“The poet Jack Spicer did more than simply write poems about aliens. He famously explained that his work was written by them. Much like Lorca’s notion of Duendethe dark force poets struggle with which “must come to life in the nethermost recesses of the blood”Spicer reported that his relationship to his poems was similar to that of a radio to incoming broadcasts and that it was Martians who sent his poems to him through space.
Whether searching in earnest for answers or simply gazing up at the stars, poets continue to engage what lies just outside of their humanity.”
Read the article here.