Jack Spicer: No one listens to poetry

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.

This Is the End of the Poem – How Jack Spicer broke through the pieties of the avant-garde | Geoffrey O’Brien

via The Poetry Foundation

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Poems By Jack Spicer

This is the end of the poem.
You can start laughing, you bastards. This is
The end of the poem.

“Any fool can get into an ocean…”

A Diamond

A Poem Without a Single Bird in It

A Second Train Song for Gary

Berkeley in Time of Plague

Concord Hymn

Ode For Walt Whitman

Orpheus in Hell

Six Poems for Poetry Chicago

Thing Language



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).

Jack Spicer on Mars | Jared White

via Open Letters

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Related post:  Poetry & Aliens

“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 Duende—the 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.

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2 thoughts on “Jack Spicer: No one listens to poetry

  1. rupísima says:
  2. rupísima says:

    Chris,You just made my day! Thank you for sharing these.

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