For Jack Spicer

By Young, Al | Chicago Review, Summer-Fall 1996 | Go to article overview

For Jack Spicer


Young, Al, Chicago Review


Al Young, though born in Mississippi, has lived much of his life in California, where he teaches at Stanford University. "For Jack Spicer" pays homage to the Bay Area poet whose work influenced the development of the San Francisco Renaissance. When Young published the poem in the Summer 1970 issue, he was about to publish his first collection, Dancing, and he was the editor of Loveletter. His poems had recently been anthologized in The New Black Poetry.

YOUNG - who never met Jack Spicer personally - has explained his interest in the poet this way:

I was told that Spicer believed his poems, the actual lines, came to him by way of radio broadcasts. Spicer's lines intrigued me with their often delightful and deliberate discontinuity and whimsical shifts in voice. I suspected he might have been working from a system or esthetic that embraced automatic or spontaneous composition, but I didn't know at all what he was up to. His close friend and fellow poet Robin Blazer was fond of telling Spicer 's admirers that Spicer didn't intend for his poems to make sense; that writing for him was a purely recreational activity.

At the time I was in my twenties, and still eager to learn from any and every source all I could about the art and practice of poetry. San Francisco itself was the scene of a highly-energized and exciting poetry scene in which Jack Spicer's presence and voice figured prominently. I had taken in some of Spicer's notions on the poetic process as he had articulated them in the statement on poetics he contributed to Donald Allen's The New American Poetry, 1945-1960 (Grove Press), and found them eye-opening.

When news reached me of Jack Spicer's seemingly sudden and relatively early death in the mid 1960s, I sat down to speak to his spirit, just as he himself had casually addressed Barnacle Bill the Sailor and other mythic figures in poems. …

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