My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer

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In 1965, when the poet Jack Spicer died at the age of forty, he left behind a trunkful of papers and manuscripts and a few copies of the seven small books he had seen to press. A West Coast poet, his influence spanned the national literary scene of the 1950s and ’60s, though in many ways Spicer’s innovative writing ran counter to that of his contemporaries in the New York School and the West Coast Beat movement. Now, more than forty years later, Spicer’s voice is more compelling, insistent, and timely than ever. During his short but prolific life, Spicer troubled the concepts of translation, voice, and the act of poetic composition itself. My Vocabulary Did This to Me is a landmark publication of this essential poet’s life work, and includes poems that have become increasingly hard to find and many published here for the first time.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“As a measure of our historical distance from Spicer’s personality, a new generation of editors, the poets Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian, moves beyond the Spicer ‘legend’ in order to present the full range of his poetry to readers both familiar and unfamiliar with his work.”—Zach Finch, Boston Review

“My Vocabulary Did This To Me...These final words serve as an apt title for Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian’s wonderfully edited Spicer collection, the first thorough gathering of the poet’s extraordinary and challenging writing to appear since the ‘70s.”—Erik Davis, Bookforum

“You finish My Vocabulary Did This to Me feeling you’ve come in contact with an original artist and a genuine one, a writer who is, to borrow from Wordsworth, ‘fierce, moody, patient, venturous, modest, shy.’ You also finish the book thinking that these poems are ready to find a new audience.”
—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“His vocabulary did indeed do this to hi, but perhaps with this handsome edtion, love and reappraisal will let him go on.”—Edward Champion, The Los Angeles Times

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780819568878
  • Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
  • Publication date: 11/30/2008
  • Series: Wesleyan Poetry Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 508
  • Sales rank: 1,215,979
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

JACK SPICER (1925–1965) published books including After Lorca (1957), Billy the Kid (1959), and The Holy Grail (1962). PETER GIZZI is a poet and author of numerous books, including The Outernationale (2007), who lives in Holyoke, Massachusetts. KEVIN KILLIAN is a poet, novelist, critic, and playwright living in San Francisco.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction xiii

About This Edition xxvii

I (1945-1956)

Berkeley Renaissance (1945-1950)

Berkeley in Time of Plague 5

A Girl's Song 5

Homosexuality 6

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Landscape 6

An Apocalypse for Three Voices 10

One Night Stand 13

An Answer to Jaime de Angulo 13

A Lecture in Practical Aesthetics 14

Dialogue Between Intellect and Passion 15

A Night in Four Parts (Second Version) 16

Orpheus in Hell 18

Orpheus After Eurydice 19

Orpheus' Song to Apollo 20

Troy Poem 21

"We find the body difficult to speak…" 22

"They are selling the midnight papers…" 22

"Any fool can get into an ocean…" 23

The Scrollwork on the Casket 24

The Dancing Ape 25

Imaginary Elegies (I, II, III) 26

Psychoanalysis: An Elegy 31

Minnesota Poems (1950-1952)

Minneapolis: Indian Summer 37

Watching a TV Boxing Match in October 37

Portrait of an Artist 38

Sonnet for the Beginning of Winter 38

On Reading Last Year's Love Poems 39

Orpheus in Athens 39

Train Song for Gary 40

A Second Train Song for Gary 41

Berkeley / San Francisco (1952-1955)

A Postscript to the Berkeley Renaissance 45

A Poem for Dada Day at The Place, April 1, 1955 46

"The window is a sword…" 47

Imaginary Elegies (IV) 48

New York / Boston (1955-1956)

IInd Phase of the Moon 53

IIIrd Phase of the Moon 53

IVth Phase of the Moon 54

Some Notes on Whitman for Allen Joyce 55

The Day Five Thousand Fish Died Along the Charles River 56

Hibernation-After Morris Graves 56

Éternuement 57

Song for the Great Mother 57

"The city of Boston…" 58

Five Words for Joe Dunn on His Twenty-Second Birthday 58

Birdland, California 60

"Imagine Lucifer…" 61

The Song of the Bird in the Loins 62

Babel 3 63

They Murdered You: An Elegy on the Death of Kenneth Rexroth 64

A Poem to the Reader of the Poem 65

Song for Bird and Myself 69

A Poem Without a Single Bird in It 73

The Unvert Manifesto and Other Papers Found in the Rare Book Room of the Boston Public Library in the Handwriting of Oliver Charming. By S. 74

II (1956-1965)

San Francisco (1956-1965)

Poetry as Magic Workshop Questionnaire 99

After Lorca 105

Admonitions 155

A Book of Music 169

Socrates 179

A Poem for Dada Day at The Place, April 1, 1958 180

Billy the Kid 183

For Steve Jonas Who Is in Jail for Defrauding a Book Club 192

Fifteen False Propositions Against God 193

Letters to James Alexander 203

Apollo Sends Seven Nursery Rhymes to James Alexander 217

A Birthday Poem for Jim (and James) Alexander 223

Imaginary Elegies (V, VI) 230

"Dignity is a part of a man…" 233

Helen: A Revision 235

The Heads of the Town up to the Aether 247

Lament for the Makers 315

A Red Wheelbarrow 323

Three Marxist Essays 328

The Holy Grail 329

Golem 359

Map Poems 365

Language 371

Book of Magazine Verse 403

Chronology 429

Notes to the Poems 437

Bibliography 455

Index of Titles 457

Index of First Lines 461

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