You should know who Jack Spicer is

Jack Spicer should not be an obscure poet.Despite being an exceptional poet, his personal history alone warrants literary fame. Spicer helped found the Six Gallery in San Francisco, where Allen Ginsberg first recited “Howl” and arguably where the Beat movement began.Spicer was a gay anarchist who drank himself to death in 1965 at age 40. His last words were “my vocabulary did this to me.” Sylvia Plath has nothing on Jack Spicer.Spicer’s poetry, up until the release of his anthology in January 2009, had been out of print – like many, he was a forgotten ancestor among gods like Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs. Obsolete no more, “My Vocabulary Did This to Me” is a collection of all Spicer’s published works. It is a daunting but entirely worthwhile challenge to anyone who enjoys poetry.Many of the poems in this collection are love poems, in the sense that they speak more of its absence than presence. Spicer states in one poem that “Useless valentines/ Are better/ Than all others,” and he believed absolutely that loneliness and poetry were intertwined. Yet Spicer’s poetry remains incredibly intimate, as in “Imaginary Elegies” when he writes, “When I praise the sun or any bronze god derived from it/ Don’t think I wouldn’t rather praise the very tall blond boy/ Who ate all my potato chips at the Red Lizard. / It’s just that I won’t see him when I open my eyes/ And I will see the sun.”Spicer’s work is timelessly successful: more than 40 years after his death, his honesty and intensity still resonate with readers. In the last year of his short life, he wrote, “Get those words out of your mouth and into your heart.”Spicer did not believe, or at least claimed not to believe, that he created his poems. He dismissed the copyright process, all the while claiming to be the poetic vessel of “martians.” In spite of his alleged lack of control, Spicer experimented extensively with form throughout his poetry. “My Vocabulary Did This to Me” contains letters, journal entries, footnotes, and screenplay dialogue-all serving as poetic expression. In his book “Admonitions,” Spicer inserts letters to friends about the poems in the book. At first it seems to be just a commentary, but it is really Spicer’s attempt to turn mere individual poems into a larger piece of art. As he says in one of the letters, “Two inconsequential things can combine together to become a consequence.”Jack Spicer was a unique voice that never quite fit into any school or movement during his time. With this collection, a new generation of readers will hopefully be encouraged to write to their own beat.