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on December 17, 2014
Jack Spicer was so ahead of his time that only now is he quickly becoming one of America's most studied poets. This collection (titled after his supposed last words), My Vocabulary did this to Me, is a showcase of both his previously published and unpublished work, giving the reader a strong sense of understanding the shift in poetic nature Spicer makes over time.

While I appreciated almost all of Spicer's poetic musings throughout his career, I find him at his most touching and real in his letters to Lorca and others. These particular moments help reveal what is so important about Spicer as a writer: his own dilemma of what constitutes poetry. Whether or not this reveal of what he defines and sees as poetry strengthens or weakens the arguments for his other poems that do not adopt prose is left up to the reader, then, as one can not help but analyze his poetry in terms of his attempts to define the art in some way.

For those interested in writing, reading, and understanding philosophies on contemporary poetry, Spicer is a necessary read, and one certainly worth while. At his best, he is emotionally and philosophically moving, at his worst, he's still interesting.
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on May 26, 2011
before this was published, i had been searching for it everywhere. it had been stolen out of all the libraries in chicago. i even met someone at a rare book store (not an employee) that admitted to stealing one of the very few copies in circulation, because he felt Entitled to it.
being so deprived -- as is anyone who is denied the opportunity to read spicer -- i hit the bryant park branch of the new york public library on my next visit to the east coast. there, i photocopied every page of spicer poetry the kept in their research library. (yea, i can afford photocopies galore, but not rare original editions on collectors' sites.)
now that i have this precious compilation, it is the tome that i drag with me everywhere, my dada cheerleader, my barometer by which to measure creative work. spicer does orpheus better than rilke, browning, sitwell, graham, atwood, and hughes. this book is magnificent and a joy. it sparkles with wit and stands apart from every other modern literary work. i will not profane it with a quote, but his images are tactile, cinematic and immediately relatable. his language is wry, sexy, despairing, and spare.
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on September 12, 2010
"If someone doesn't fight me I'll have to wear this armor / All of my life," says Jack Spicer, speaking here with his usual trenchant yet wounded wit in the voice of the Arthurian knight Percival. Indeed, Spicer did spend his short life--he died of alcohol-related complications in 1965 at the age of forty--encased in a kind of metaphorical armor, purposely keeping the business of poetry far from the act of writing it; with the exception of his appearance in Donald Allen's groundbreaking 1960 anthology The New American Poetry 1945-1960, his works were disseminated during his lifetime through a coterie of initiates and small presses. Along with friends Robin Blaser and Robert Duncan, Spicer came to be known as a foundational figure of the so-called San Francisco Renaissance, contemporaneous to the Beats but without the bells and whistles of widespread public acclaim. There is a prophetic and telling moment, one which reveals much about the precarious nature of literary reputations, in Poet Be Like God, the decade-old biography of Spicer written by Killian and Lewis Ellingham, where famous beat poet and publisher of City Lights Lawrence Ferlinghetti asks: "Why would anyone want to publish a biography of Spicer? He's almost forgotten nowadays, isn't he?" Were it not for the acumen and diligent grunt work of friends, associates, and admirers, Spicer's now-growing legacy as a seminal twentieth-century poet might have remained an insider's secret. Here, Gizzi and Killian draw on both The Collected Books of Jack Spicer, edited by Robin Blaser for Black Sparrow in 1975, and Donald Allen's editing of One Night Stand & Other Poems in 1980, both long out of print, along with the discovery of a veritable goldmine of notebooks and other ephemera in the Spicer archives to create the definitive and lasting collection of Spicer's poetry. The secret is finally out and it's spreading like wildfire. Ferlinghetti who?
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on June 23, 2015
It'so clear this water, so deep the sensation. Jack Spicer is so here.
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on April 19, 2015
Amazing poetry by a gay poet from the San Francisco Beat Scene.
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on December 21, 2008
In the decades following WWII, a tremendous amount of complex, appealing, outward-facing, socially engaged and universally relevant poetry was written in the United States by poets who more or less all knew each other, wrote about each other, and went to the same parties. Ferlingetti published Allen Ginsberg, who staged a happening at the funeral of Frank O'Hara, who was a close friend of John Ashberry, who promoted the books of Kenneth Koch, and so on. Together, these poets' work influenced everything from political speeches to hip-hop, and perhaps more importantly, their eclectic, immediate, deeply personal, free-spirited outpourings drowned out the recondite, referential, fascist, formalist modernism exemplified by Eliot and Pound, and cured American poetry of the disease that continued to plague our architecture and our prose. (Notice there's no "postmodernism" in poetry--"Howl" made it irrelevant.)

Jack Spicer is the self-selected black sheep of the group. His poems are stubbornly self-reflexive: they are about poetry and poets, and the struggle to the death between them. He likes to quote Pound. He disses New York. He writes "A band of faggots. . .cannot be built into a log-cabin in which all Western Civilization can cower." (Take THAT Ginsberg and O'Hara.) He talks about being in hell. He sees ghosts.

In his pity, privacy, and focus on writers and death, he reminds me of Roberto Bolano and David Markson. But there is also an energy, a wealth of invention, and a darn human likeability to his work that. . . well, maybe there was something in the air in mid-twentieth century America, which we can all breathe even now by reading these poems. "Love makes the discovery wisdom abandons." Ahh--joy. "Two loves I had, one rang a bell/connected on both sides with hell." Who of us hasn't been there? And as for modernism--"Love ate the red wheelbarrow." Yes again. Thank the ghosts. Read this and breathe.
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on January 1, 2015
LOVE. A definitive must for your bookshelf.
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on April 21, 2009
I am just finishing the "must read" poetry volume of the year, "My Vocabulary Did this To Me", an anticipated republication of the poems by the late Jack Spicer, edited by Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian, and I have to admit that Spicer's writing has me momentarily forgetting my prejudice against poems about poetry and poets and allowing myself to be knocked by the author's third-rail wit. A singular figure, who didn't fit in with the Beats, the New York School, nor the San Francisco Renaissance, Spicer's poems were a set of marginalia at the edges of the principle discussion as to what poetry was and ought to be, and as becomes clear as we read, his counter assertions, his asides, his declarations had more self contained clarity and vision than much of the stuff he looked askance at.

Interrogation of received notions was his on going theme, and `though the practice of making literary practice the unifying metaphor in a body of work tends to seal off poetry from an readership that could benefit from a skewed viewpoint--unlocking a door only to find another locked door, or a brick wall, ceases to be amusing once one begins to read poets for things other than status--Spicer rather positions the whole profession and the art as an item among a range of other activities individuals take on to make their daily life cohere with a faint purpose they might feel welling inside them. Spicer, in matters of money, sexuality, poetry, religion zeros on the neatly paired arrangements our language system indexes our hairiest ideas with and sniffs a rat when the description opts for the easily deployed adjectives, similes and conclusions that make the hours go faster.

Thing Language

By Jack Spicer

This ocean, humiliating in its disguises
Tougher than anything.
No one listens to poetry. The ocean
Does not mean to be listened to. A drop
Or crash of water. It means
Is bread and butter
Pepper and salt. The death
That young men hope for. Aimlessly
It pounds the shore. White and aimless signals. No
One listens to poetry.

There is reservedly antagonistic undercurrent to Spicer's work, the subtle and ironic derision of the language arts that, as he sees them practiced, is locked up in matters of petty matters of status, property, the ownership of ideas, the expansion of respective egos that mistake their basic cleverness for genius. The world, the external and physical realm that one cannot know but only describe with terms that continually need to be resuscitated, is, as we know, something else altogether that hasn't the need for elaborate vocabularies that compare Nature and Reality with everything a poet can get his or her hands on. What this proves, Spicer thinks (it seems to me, in any event) is that we know nothing of the material we try to distill in verse; even our language is parted out from other dialogues.

The Sporting Life

By Jack Spicer

The trouble with comparing a poet with a radio is that radios
don't develop scar-tissue. The tubes burn out, or with a
transistor, which most souls are, the battery or diagram
burns out replacable or not replacable, but not like that
punchdrunk fighter in a bar. The poet
Takes too many messages. The right to the ear that floored him
in New Jersey. The right to say that he stood six rounds with
a champion.

Then they sell beer or go on sporting commissions, or, if the
scar tissue is too heavy, demonstrate in a bar where the
invisible champions might not have hit him. Too many of
The poet is a radio. The poet is a liar. The poet is a
counterpunching radio.
And those messages (God would not damn them) do not even
know they are champions.

Spicer is an interesting poet on several levels, all of them deep and rich with deposits that reward an earnest dig. He is , I think, on a par with Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams with the interest in grilling the elaborative infrastructure of how we draw or are drawn to specialized conclusions with the use of metaphor, and it is to his particular brilliance as a lyric poet, comparable to Frank O'Hara (a poet Spicer declared he didn't care for, with O'Hara thinking much the same in kind) that the contradictions, competing desires and unexpected conundrums of investigating one's verbal stream are made comprehensible to the senses, a joy to the ear. No one, really no one wrote as distinctly as the long obscure Spicer did, and editors Gizzi, Killian and publisher Wesleyan Press are to be thanked for restoring a major American voice to our shared canon.
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on March 3, 2011
I first heard about this book of poetry, in a publication of the Bancroft Library (University of California), and since that major library has a collection of Jack Spicer's work, I was impressed enough to order this volume.

As someone who virtually never returns books that I've bought from or through Amazon, I have to make an exception with this book, and I am returning it. I literally couldn't find a single poem here, that I found to be anything other than average, at best.
Anyone interested in good poetry from California poets would be far better off looking at Robinson Jeffers' or Gary Snyder's work (as just two examples of wonderful, talented California poets).

Mr. Spicer simply isn't in the category of "great poets" (from California, or anywhere else), in my opinion.
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on January 7, 2014
I love these poems, from the least known of the Beats in San Francisco. The title comes from Spicer's reported last words, as he died of alcoholism.
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