Jack Spicer, brief bio

b. 1925 - d. 1965

Jack Spicer lived and died on the West Coast; he was born in Los Angeles and spent his brief but significant poetic career in San Francisco. Dying of alcoholism, his last words were, "My vocabulary did this to me." Spicer believed in poetry as a form of magic, most potent when spoken aloud. His work tapped a variety of idioms including the "deep image" as found in the writing of Federico Garcia Lorca. In 1957, he organized a "Poetry as Magic" workshop that included his friend Robert Duncan. Spicer was also an enthusiastic participant, and sometimes host, of Blabbermouth Night at The Place, a San Francisco literary bar. Blabbermouth Night, a bardic competition in which poets uttered unrehearsed "babble" into the microphone, underscored Spicer's belief in an oral poetics as stated in "The Poet and Poetry - A Symposium" (1949):

The truth is that pure poetry bores everybody. It is a bore even to the poet. The only real contribution of the New Critics is that they have demonstrated this so well. They have taken poetry (already removed from its main source of human interest - the human voice) and have completed the job of denuding it of any remaining connection with person, place, and time....

Live poetry is a kind of singing. It differs from prose, as song does, in its complexity of stress and intonation. Poetry demands a human voice to sing it and demands an audience to hear it. Without these it is naked, pure, and incompletely - a bore.*

Yet Spicer's poems in the volume Language (1964), with their emphasis on linguistics, are more consistent with the later development of language poetry, which rejects an exclusively oral poetics. Most of Spicer's work can be found in two volumes: One Night Stand and Other Poems (1980) and The Collected Books of Jack Spicer (1989).

* quoted from One Night Stand and Other Poems, San Francisco, 1980, p. 91.