Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Day Sixteen

Jack Spicer: San Francisco Renaissance poet (along with Robin Blaser and Robert Duncan) whom I find both delightful and sometimes misguided. In his After Lorca he talks (in one of his letters to Lorca) about creating poems out of things. Not in the W. C. Williams sense ("no ideas but in things") but in a much more literal, concrete sense, a Kurt Schwitters sense of pasting newspapers and lemons together to make a poem about newspapers and lemons. This would be better, he suggests, than using words, because the only usefulness of words is to bring the real into the poem. The words cling to the real and vice versa. Other than that, words have no value. The perfect poem, he says, has an infinitely small vocabulary.

These letters to Lorca are obviously poems in themselves, more than they are serious attempts to theorize his practice, if serious means unambiguous. But Spicer seemed to be one of those writers - a true poet, if you will - who was incapable of distinguishing much between the poetic and the theoretical. His A Textbook of Poetry his explanations are surreal and concerned with things like ghosts. In his lectures, his apparently earnest - albeit intoxicated - attempts to explain his practice continually call on esoteric forces - whether ghosts or Martians, some external force - as the inspirational factor in poetry-writing. At first I thought this was a conservative sort of mythologization, an attempt to turn writing into a kind of transcendental, inexlicable religious experience, which in practice would only reify the exalted aura of the poet. It bears a resemblance to what Creeley talks about as poetry by dictation. However, taken another way Spicer's philosophy can be seen as a determined attempt to evacuate intentionality from the writing process. This is not so different from the thoroughly post-modern and (I think) progressive aleatory practices of John Cage or Jackson Maclow, or of the Oulipo writers, and not so unrelated to the Death of the Author. It may be just Spicer's way of saying, as Derrida does, that language is never entirely in our conscious control.

Spicer also seemed concerned that poetry be an act of communication, although he thinks this is incredibly difficult and rare. Communicating with the dead seems to be the most he consistently hopes for. In the Lorca book he dedicates every one of the poems to someone he knows. This, he explains, is to ensure that each poem will be able to find an audience of at least one person.


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