Sam Weselowski

 “And I will again become your special comrade”: On Jack Spicer’s After Lorca


In late 1957, poets and friends of poets who hung around the bars of San Francisco’s North Beach, attended readings at the Six Gallery on Fillmore Street, took part in the “Poetry as Magic” workshop held at the San Francisco Public Library, or, more generally, participated in the burst of social energies then being called “The San Francisco Renaissance,” were greeted by the first full-length book by one of the scene’s major players: After Lorca by Jack Spicer. White Rabbit Press published this short work in an edition of 500 copies, the book being put together la perruque style at the Greyhound Bus offices in San Francisco where Joe Dunn, then head of the press, worked. Even though Spanish poet Federico García Lorca had been dead for just over 20 years, the book begins thus: “Frankly I was quite surprised when Mr. Spicer asked me to write an introduction to this volume” (A np). “Lorca” goes on to dispute Spicer’s credibility as a translator:

It must be made clear at the start that these poems are not translations. In even the most literal of them Mr. Spicer seems to derive pleasure in inserting or substituting one or two words which completely change the mood and often the meaning of the poem as I had written it. More often he takes one of my poems and adjoins to half of it another half of his own, giving rather the effect of an unwilling centaur. (np)

Spicer-as-Lorca further clarifies the authorial predicament that underlies the volume: “there are an almost equal number of poems that I did not write at all … and I have further complicated the problem (with malice aforethought I must admit) by sending Mr. Spicer several poems written after my death” (np). Lastly, the Introduction refers to the “programmatic” letters Spicer includes, “the letter one poet writes to another not in any effort to communicate with him, but rather as a young man whispers his secrets to a scarecrow, knowing that his young lady is in the distance listening … The reader, who is not a party to this singular tryst, may be amused by what he overhears” (np). In sum, After Lorca consists of poems that are at times translations in only the broadest sense, some of which claim to be recently composed by a poet long since dead, others which are creations by Spicer disguised as the work of his martyred predecessor, all of which are interleaved by one writer’s longed-for correspondence with another.[1] With After Lorca, that is to say, Spicer conceived a poetry capable of combining translation and epistolary fiction, philosophical commentary and poetic prognostication, delicate lyrics and disdain toward the literary institutions of postwar America. Bearing these multiple frames in mind, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that After Lorca represents one of the few revelatory works of mid-century poetry in English.

Fast-forward to 2021 and After Lorca has resurfaced under the auspices of the New York Review of Books, now with a preface by American poet Peter Gizzi.[2] How this mercurial book continues to tantalize is what I’d like to try and spell out in the following pages. First, I want to spend some time with the formal mechanisms Spicer develops in this book — his invention of the serial poem and his concept of “dictation”[3] — and more specifically how they interact with the less easy to pin down aspects of his work, namely poetic address and community. For it is in Spicer’s commitment to poetic writing as a communal act, to my mind, that his work remains a lodestar for contemporary poetry; the translations and letters within After Lorca variously commune with lovers, friends, and rivals, with history, and with the dead, in ways that insist on the deep relationship between poetic writing and social life. Put differently, After Lorca has by no means become “relevant” in the 21st century — I’m not sure it was relevant in its own time, whatever that might mean — but rather demands that its re-translation remaiFthisn an ongoing project.

This slim volume continues the gradual increase in Spicerian output since his death from alcohol poisoning in 1965 at the age of forty. Robin Blaser edited the first comprehensive edition of Spicer’s oeuvre, The Collected Books of Jack Spicer that appeared in 1975, which was followed by Gizzi’s edited The House That Jack Built: The Collected Lectures of Jack Spicer published in 1998, and more recently Gizzi and Kevin Killian’s edited My Vocabulary Did This To Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer from 2008.[4] So while After Lorca has made several appearances since 1957, the NYRB edition returns us to the form most central to Spicer’s poetics, the book as a unit of composition.

Spicer uses the “serial poem” to describe how his works are constituted by the non-linear arrangement of lyric units, the whole of which eschews the event horizon of epic (as pursued by figures like Pound, Eliot, and Olson) in favour of the messy transformations across discrete poems, on one hand, and between language and daily existence, on the other. As Spicer states in a letter to Blaser in Admonitions: “The trick naturally is what [Robert] Duncan learned years ago and tried to teach us — not to search for the perfect poem but to let your way of writing of the moment go along its own paths, explore and retreat but never be fully realized (confined) within the boundaries of one poem” (CB 61). Seriality places emphasis not on the Poem aspiring to a kind of ahistorical perfection but rather on the improvised strategies by which we muster language to narrate subjective experience. Consequently, Spicer doesn’t envision the series as being condemned to the unrealizability of the individual poem, but rather discovers how this open form allows poetic writing to digress, contradict, and repeat itself. It’s a form that sticks to the provisional: “I would like to make poems out of real objects … I would like to point to the real, disclose it, to make a poem that has no sound in it but the pointing of a finger” (L 37). The single poem within the series is not a definitive statement; it’s a moment that enacts correspondence with other moments, be they personal, social, or historical.

What guides the serial structure of Spicer’s books is, in his words, “dictation,” a concept that has since become synonymous with his poetic method more broadly. At a glance, dictation resembles “automatic writing,” though I think there’s something more historically particular at play in Spicer’s description of it. In his inaugural, bourbon-fuelled lecture of 1965 held in Vancouver, Spicer asserts: “there is an Outside to the poet … whether it’s an id down in the cortex which you can’t reach anyway, which is just as far outside as Mars, or whether it is far away as those galaxies which seem to be sending radio messages to us with the whole of the galaxy blowing up just to say something to us” (H 5).  “Dictation” subsequently names the process by which the “Outside” is transmitted into the poem through the poet who is more medium than author. (A robust reader of science-fiction, Spicer liked to joke that he received messages from “Martians” which served as the primary content of his poems; as an avid student of French literature and film, he found the poetry-spewing car radio in Jean Cocteau’s Orphée to be another illustrative example.) So if poetry is meant to be “feeling confessing itself to itself, in moments of solitude, and embodying itself in symbols which are the nearest possible representations of the feeling in the exact shape in which it exists in the poet’s mind,” as John Stuart Mill’s still dominant definition avers, Spicer uses dictation to radically decentre the poet’s authorial voice (95).[5] Dictation proposes that private emotion — “the big lie of the personal,” as Spicer calls it (L 59) — is no longer the supreme raw material for poetic writing. What’s important for Spicer isn’t how poems secrete the innermost thoughts and feelings of bourgeois consciousness, but rather how the Outside (which surrounds us yet cannot be touched, like the farthest reaches of the galaxy or the murkiest depths of the unconscious) becomes seared into the very syntax of poetic language.

On that score, I prefer to treat “dictation” as a fairly specific code word: mediation. Indeed, throughout After Lorca Spicer states that there is no direct, unmediated experience of the social world, there is only the mediated, the representational, the narrativized: “A poet is a time mechanic not an embalmer. The words around the immediate shrivel and decay like flesh around the body … Objects, words must be led across time not preserved against it” (24). Relatedly, I tend to interpret Spicer’s notion of the “Outside” as simply “History” or, if you prefer, the absent global colonial system of capital itself, the mode of production which shapes our day-to-day lives but is wholly unavailable to immediate — or unmediated — experience. Read this way, Spicer’s translation games and communion with the dead presently become methods of grappling with the world-historical. Lorca’s murder by fascist forces in Spain is thus not solely a site of individual tragedy but can be seen reconstructing a queer genealogy of poetry while also pointing to the mutated forms of fascist and colonial violence in the present. To this effect, I’m struck by images in After Lorca like “The lights of Philadelphia flicker and go out in the faces of a thousand policemen,” as it envisions the police as an urban paramilitary force (17). More generally for the context of the Cold War, translation is doubly coded as an aesthetic practice and form of intelligence gathering, a tension that Spicer perhaps knew firsthand after his brief involvement in the gay liberation group the Mattachine Society, insofar as its leftist sympathies made it a potential target for FBI surveillance.[6] Similarly, I’m reminded of Spicer’s refusal to sign the loyalty oath at UC Berkeley, a state-backed legislative measure that on the one hand required faculty and other state employees to disavow radical political beliefs while on the other hand intended to forcibly remove communists from the university system. As well, the late 1950s and early 1960s has come to represent one of the decisive phases of capitalist development in the 20th century, characterized by the economic regime’s unparalleled colonization of both world-system and subjectivity. In the wake of decolonization movements across the then-called Third World, the imperial core devised a new kind of indirect rule arbitrated through the International Monetary Fund (headquartered in Washington) in tandem with covert military operations; and as for the metropolitan world within which Spicer and many of his New American Poetry peers moved, an intensive form of commodity spectacle sought to penetrate further and further into the affective experience and consumption patterns of daily existence, variously termed “the society of the spectacle” by Guy Debord and “the colonization of everyday life” by Henri Lefebvre.[7] Indeed, one way we might historicize New American Poetry itself pertains to this particular conjuncture: their work doesn’t emerge purely out of a break from their high modernist parents, but instead represents a variegated archive of aesthetic registrations corresponding to the colonial relations of the periphery being unevenly imposed onto the class relations of the metropole. Put differently, the formal experiments of New American Poetry can be regarded as aesthetic traces if not outright transcriptions of American empire’s attempt to penetrate world space and lifeworld alike, with the poets themselves bearing testimony to the uneven and at times contradictory ways in which these objective conditions — urban renewal, racial violence, colonial wars, atomic destruction, reproductive labour — are subjectively lived.

This historical digression is no doubt only a partial glimpse into the lifeworld Spicer’s poetry inhabits. However, I think these dynamics are worth alluding to not just because they animate Spicer’s notion of the “Outside,” but because they also raise the stakes of his fiercely personal writing. For although the serial poem is probably the single most important contribution Spicer’s poetry has given us, this new form nevertheless retains a comparatively conventional one: the lyric. As Gizzi states in the preface: “Spicer’s first book offers us a pure lyric poetry, with all its attendant concerns: divinity and accident, physical beauty and romantic love, political outrage and enlightenment. These frames only renew the power of the lyric to stun us, awaken us to a new reality. A lyric reality” (xv). So how does Spicer square the expression of romantic love with the full weight of global capital, not to mention the nooks and crannies of the unconscious alongside intergalactic space exploding in every direction?

“A Spicer poem is much easier to feel than to explain,” Miriam Nichols writes. (167). Although they look and feel like individual lyrics — “One night stands,” as Spicer often referred to them — the poems within After Lorca hold in tension the visceral and the concrete. Consider “Aquatic Park,” a translation “for Jack Spicer,” which I quote in full:


A green boat

Fishing in blue water


The gulls circle the pier

Calling their hunger


A wind rises from the west

Like the passing of desire


Two boys play on the beach



Their gangling legs cast shadows

On the wet sand



Sprawling in the boat


A beautiful black fish. (35)


It’s a poem that inhabits numerous perspectives, leaping from boat, bird, beach, and boys. Each of these points of view is defined by its just-there-ness — nothing particularly concrete links the poem’s individual figures other than the fact that they’re all on the seacoast. But it’s that same light touch that makes this text so pleasurable; the speaker basks in his own longing, sure, but nonetheless feels desire drift between boat, birds, and boys. “Aquatic Park” is a placid still life, whose assembled images toggle between landscape (“A green boat / fishing in blue water”) and close-up (“Sprawling in the boat // A beautiful black fish”).

If this poem relishes in the barely-there-ness of its images, what’s stopping it from dissolving altogether? How is it not just another one night stand? Spicer works through these problems in two ways. First, we have to navigate the mediated status of this poem: is it Lorca, Spicer, or a mix of the two? And how should one interpret a poem dedicated to the book’s translator (if not author)? In either case the individual poem becomes deeply yet indirectly constituted by the book’s broader questions of textuality, with “Jack Spicer” suggesting not so much a figure or even character but, similar to the birds and boys in the poem, a site of libidinal surfeit. Second, “Aquatic Park” contains a number of resonances with other of the poems in After Lorca, of which I’ll only mention two. In “Radar,” labelled a “Postscript for Marianne Moore,” we return to the seashore at the book’s conclusion:


            I crawled into bed with sorrow that night

            Couldn’t touch his fingers. See the splash

            Of the water

            The noisy movement of cloud

            The push of the humpbacked mountains

            Deep at the sand’s edge. (66)


A radar would not be a bad device for reading Spicer’s serial poems, insofar as radars are used to move across space in however aleatory a fashion, all the while translating physical objects into sound so as to orient oneself in the depths of the ocean. Radars are also mediatory, in the same way that translations always are. Turning on the radar while reading this poem would alert us to the other shared images, perspectives, and references spread out across After Lorca. So in “Radar” we re-examine the beach that is now contiguous with the bedroom — a spatial anomaly, to be sure. Both “Aquatic Park” and “Radar” use spatial description to counterpose affective experience: in the former, physical distance can be offset by a shared moment of desire, whereas in the latter, separation juxtaposes the seamless transition from splash to cloud to mountain — note how dramatic that period is between “fingers” and “See.” Or in the majestic “Ode for Walt Whitman,” Spicer re-perceives New York as the seat of American empire, defined by its mixture (at once corrosive and intoxicating) of race relations, libidinal excess, frontier nostalgia, and world space:


            That one also, also. And they throw themselves down on

            Your burning virgin beard,

            Blonds of the North, negroes from the seashore,

            Crowds of shouts and gestures

            Like cats or snakes

            The cocksuckers, Walt Whitman, the cocksuckers,

            Muddy with tears, meat for the whip,

            Tooth or boot of the cowboys. (31-32)


All three of these poems produce lists, often using the same images: seashore, people, built environment. But this doesn’t equate Lorca’s or Whitman’s New York with Spicer’s San Francisco; rather, we begin to recognize the poses the book takes up when it confronts different kinds of metropoles, what in Spicer always involves a relay between city, sea, wilderness, and inhabitants. At the same time, the serial structure of Spicer’s poetry doesn’t thematize so much as spiral, by which I mean the recurrence of images, settings, and figures has more to do with rendering social processes in time and space (American urbanization across a range of locales, say) than it does with inspiring loose-fitting abstractions (love, loss, and so on).

The trick to After Lorca’s seriality is that its play of mediation and play of correspondence typically occur at the same time. And the way Spicer does this most vividly is by adopting multiple modes of poetic address. That is, not unlike After Lorca’s combination of lyric poem and epistolary fiction, “mediation” and “correspondence” come to be harnessed by the different techniques of hailing, calling out, and naming that the poems perform. Consider how all the poems are dedicated to someone — fellow poets, friends, lovers and, in the case of “Debussy,” the “University of Redlands” (12). Spicer offers one reason for doing this: “I may not be a better poet when I am in love, but I am a far less frustrated one. My poems have an audience” (45). Audience can also be understood as social group, and it is one of the legendary Spicerian attributes to conflate poem with poetic community, even if that meant aggressively admonishing your peers. In other words, one of the ways Spicer sought “to make poems out of real objects” was by emphasizing exactly how inseparable writing was from the social context in which it assumed shape. And for Spicer “social context” took a variety of forms: it partly related to a kind of bicoastal colonization Spicer witnessed between East and West in American poetry, to which his championing of the San Francisco scene was cantilevered by his animosity toward his New York School contemporaries.[8] Spicer’s sense of social context also involved a healthy dose of suspicion toward postwar literary institutions, insofar as he felt they entailed the professionalization of poetic culture. “I have a little magazine up my ass,” proclaims one of the Spanish Dancers in “Buster Keaton Rides Again: A Sequel” (51).[9]

In one view, Spicer’s commitment to a geographically bounded sense of community appears insular at best, parochial at worst. Christopher Nealon suggests that Spicer’s attachment to the Bay Area served as a practical means to thwart, however feebly, “what we would now call globalization — a crisis of the local felt as the encroachments of the global, a crisis in which the pleasure of nonsense … will be sealed over by television, by mass culture, by the nationalization of a literary ‘business’ at odds with the local conditions of the production of literature” (109). Indeed, considering his militant localism, the match between major New York publisher and combative San Francisco poet in this new edition of After Lorca would perhaps be irksome to Spicer. As Gizzi surmises:

Was [Spicer] a genius? Certainly. Was he difficult? Undoubtedly. Was he fiercely true to his art? Absolutely. Did he push back against the commercialization of bohemia? Yes, and throughout his life he eschewed copyright. He published his work with small local presses in editions of no more than five hundred copies, and even went so far as to restrict their distribution to the Bay Area. (ix)

Spicer’s poetics of place, that is to say, is by no means metaphorical, but instead sees community and poetic writing as fundamentally linked — although this doesn’t mean that community is always harmonious. Indeed, Spicer’s devotion to the San Francisco Renaissance could express itself in quite vituperative ways. When close friend and fellow poet Robert Duncan published The Opening of the Field with Grove Press in 1960 — ditching San Francisco for New York, as it were — Spicer decided that Duncan had sold out. Spicer subsequently remonstrated Duncan in the bizarre context of a copyright page. Regarding Spicer’s book Lament for the Makers (1962), Blaser notes that “[t]he credit information on the back of the first leaf is a joke and is a copy of the information given in Robert Duncan’s The Opening of the Field” (CB 381). Duncan is again made a target in the midst of Spicer’s later book Language, this time for what Spicer deems his hackneyed appropriation of myth: “It is deadly hard to worship god, star, and totem. Deadly easy / To use them like worn-out condoms spattered by your own gleeful, crass, and unworshiping / Wisdom” (226). Spicer was also more than happy to broadcast his criticisms in person. At a reading Duncan organized for the visiting Denise Levertov, Spicer performed “For Joe,” whose by no means self-evident analysis of the social conflicts that constitute community mostly came off, at the time, as misogynistic shock.[10] And, in the last poem in the last book he ever wrote, Spicer takes Allen Ginsberg to task for being more invested in his celebrity status than his poetry, “A necessity which is not love but is a name” (267).

While After Lorca isn’t nearly as pointed in its criticism toward Spicer’s peers, the relationship between poetic production and social formation is nevertheless one of the bedrocks of this work. Indeed, that Spicer makes community integral to the fabric of the poem feels crucial to how we might testify to the dignity of the art today. As Spicer discusses in one of his letters to Lorca:

Most of my friends like words too well. They set them under the blinding light of the poem and try to extract every possible connotation from each of them, every temporary pun, every direct or indirect connection … Others pick up words from the street, from their bars, from their offices and display them proudly in their poems as if they were shouting, “See what I have collected from the American language. Look at my butterflies, my stamps, my old shoes!” What does one do with all this crap? (L 24-25)

The passage is a sidelong glance at Spicer’s unnamed colleagues, whose creative methods fluctuate between science experiment and anthropology expedition. For Spicer, this means they repeat the false proposition that the poem grants immediate access to social reality, whether by careful extraction of word or shoe. These tactics are obviously at odds with a dictated poetry. Yet what really grabs my attention here is how Spicer manages to include a critique of his peers in the first place, considering that this book is putatively about translation. Indeed, part of what makes After Lorca so mesmerizing is how Spicer produces a space within which lyric poem and critical document coexist. His model for this is Emily Dickinson, as has been well-documented, whose collected poems (edited by Thomas H. Johnson) he reviewed in 1956: “The reason for the difficulty of drawing a line between the poetry and prose in Emily Dickinson’s letters may be that she did not wish such a line to be drawn” (H 234).[11]

Whether by lyric summons or outright hectoring, Spicer’s methods of address ultimately bring us back to the whole book’s comportment toward its historical situation, or what After Lorca repeatedly refers to as “the real.” In this, I’ll offer one final terminological gloss for Spicer’s poetics. The “real” is first and foremost a philosophical concept for Spicer, resting atop his deep knowledge of structuralism, theology, and medieval history, with a dash of psychoanalysis; you could say that when Spicer speaks of “the real” he means something like transcendence. But my interpretation here differs a little: what if this philosophical category operated more like a political one? What if the real wasn’t the Real but more like what really matters? Poetic address in Spicer, then, provides a meticulous means of integrating poem and speaker-subject in and against the rifts of modernity: “the real” designates a demand for the poem to confront the world-historical, even if it swims Outside in some as-yet unimaginable totality. So when Spicer dedicates his poems to people and universities, or when he both cruises and chastises his contemporaries, these acts variously represent an assertion — if an impossible one — to hold in common a moment of intensified contradiction.



Rereading this new edition of Spicer’s first book, I’m tempted to wonder: do people still write serial poems? Maybe the better question is: to what extent does the serial poem remain available to us given that far different historical pressures weigh upon our poets if not this textual form itself?

For one thing, whether or not After Lorca’s reissue reaffirms its lasting influence on 21st century poetry is a question Spicer wouldn’t have cared to consider. Tradition, as he informs Lorca, “means generations of different poets in different countries patiently telling the same story, writing the same poem, gaining and losing something with each transformation — but, of course, never really losing anything” (9). I can’t help but read “transformation” as the keyword here, insofar as it emphasizes historical process in its radical contingency over a firm grasp of causality. Tradition, for Spicer, locates the aesthetic trace of a shared problem or dilemma; the poem is then an event in language confronting that problem for what feels like the first time, only to discover that it simply faces a version of it all the more intensified, at least as far as American empire is concerned.

So when I read After Lorca I’m reminded of other writers who share Spicer’s convictions about poetic subject-matter, or more specifically his in-mixing of diatribe and jaw-dropping beauty. I think of the snarky assessment of contemporary cultural institutions in Luke Roberts’ Glacial Decoys, as it ranges from magazines like “The White Review, the TLS, the LRB” to funding bodies like “the AHRC,” all the way down to “every single writer’s website I’ve ever seen,” admitting at the last instance “I hate it all” (60). I think of Danielle LaFrance’s Tentacle Rasa when it goes all “Riding You is like / having one too many / questions. When You / ride me I am hoarse,” as in the different ways to body desire are awkward or goofy or rotten at the edges, “Animals eat / You because in 2013 / Americans produced / about 254 million tons / of You” (2, 14). I think of Imogen Cassels’ Chesapeake, maybe one of the few genuine serial poems published this year, “I don’t think anyone / writes the way they want to, / or the way they think / they do,” no, I don’t think they do either, later scratching at the old scab, “my love for you / a healing I therefore unpick” (11, 12). And I think of how James Goodwin’s Aspects Caught in the Headspace We’re In describes somehow being together even though lodged in the weird spaces that alienation produces,


There’s some air in

friends in earth to treble clef how


small our things can leave without us, and chime

all our mishearings heard all the


same through we friends caught

in a frenzy. Nobody cared


knew what way though, we over

there like we never had to try it like


this. (np)


If there’s anything “live” about Spicer in our own period, as these works might attest, it’s the sense of urgency by which poetic writing addresses its constitutive environments: crisis, history, cities, communities, readers. For Spicer, the series situates the local form of lyric onto the spiraling terrain of the Outside; poetic address in turn enacts a provisional means of making poem, community, and history coincide. Such an assemblage doesn’t illustrate a temporary vista whereby we exchange glances while the swarm of society lopes in the background, as though making life with global capital bearable was simply a matter of adjusting ourselves to its regime of juxtaposition. Rather, the serial poem’s different mediations, correspondences, and recurrences offer up something like a lyric totality in contrast to Gizzi’s lyric reality; confronting “the real” by way of poetic address forces together the structural and the ephemeral. After Lorca, with its temptations toward erotic excess and history itself, works by exposure: the serial poem is the provisionally intimate space within which the Outside moves, while poetic address strives to render that mediation social. In this, Spicer’s serial lyrics concern themselves with both conjunction and conjuncture. Put another way, After Lorca’s willingness to greet world-systemic crisis with the full range of desire — be that romance, eroticism, kinship, frustration, bitterness, revenge — testifies to how the poem offers up a palpable (if challenging) kind of succour. To this end, Spicer shows us that the proper terrain of the poem is the real and, as he reasons, “What is real, I suppose, will endure” (64).


[1] For those who wish to know exactly how Spicer translates Lorca, see Clayton Eshleman’s scrupulous essay “The Lorca Working” first published in boundary 2.

[2] Peter Gizzi’s superb preface to the NYRB edition identifies which poems are Spicer originals, though for this same reason I recommend reading the preface last.

[3] Though it’s worth noting that the Spicerian brand of seriality has a number of precedents: Discrete Series (1934) by George Oppen and Trilogy (1946) by H.D. can at the very least both be considered proto-serial in relation to Spicer’s work.

[4] And Dan Katz’s edited Be Brave to Things: The Uncollected Poetry and Plays of Jack Spicer is slated to appear later this year!

[5] Mill makes a subtle cameo in After Lorca’s Introduction: “poetry is overheard,” he tells us, to which Spicer’s image of man, scarecrow, and young lady gleefully satirizes (95). For a recent discussion on the persistence of Millean lyric in postwar poetics, see Gillian White’s Lyric Shame: The “Lyric” Subject of Contemporary American Poetry.

[6] For further reading on this short period of Spicer’s political life, see Kevin Killian’s “Spicer and the Mattachine” in After Spicer: Critical Essays edited by John Emil Vincent.

[7] Fredric Jameson’s “Periodizing the ‘60s” discusses this dual expansion and penetration at length. More recently, Glen Sean Coulthard’s “Once were Maoists” identifies the IMF as one of the key political and economic strategies of neo-colonial domination.

[8] Kevin Killian and Lewis Ellingham’s Poet Be Like God: Jack Spicer and the San Francisco Renaissance is probably the juiciest source on Spicer’s relationship to New York. I’ll only say that Spicer’s vitriol toward figures like Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery was foremost bound up with his own mercurial homophobia, while also being inflected by his sense of class tension: east coast ivy leaguers versus rough and tumble poets from way out west.

[9] Spicer took this practice of what we now might call “institutional critique” to its logical conclusion in his final work Book of Magazine Verse, whose individual sections are addressed to different literary, religious, and sports magazines such as Poetry Chicago, The Nation, Ramparts, and The St. Louis Sporting News.

[10] For further reading on this poem and the scandal surrounding it, see Michael Davidson’s chapter “Appropriations: Women and the San Francisco Renaissance” in The San Francisco Renaissance and Daniel Katz’s chapter “Correspondence and Admonition” in The Poetry of Jack Spicer.

[11] Dan Katz’s The Poetry of Jack Spicer offers a lucid analysis of Spicer’s debt to Dickinson.


Works Cited

Cassels, Imogen. Chesapeake. Distance No Object, 2021.

Coulthard, Glen Sean. “Once were Maoists: Third World currents in Fourth World anti-colonialism, Vancouver 1967-1975.” Routledge Handbook of Critical Indigenous Studies, edited by Brendan Hokowhitu et al, 2020, pp. 458-473.

Davidson, Michael. The San Francisco Renaissance: Poetics and Community at Mid-century. Cambridge Univ. Press, 1989.

Eshleman, Clayton. “The Lorca Working.” boundary 2, vol. 6, no. 1, 1977, pp. 31-50.

Goodwin, James. Aspects Caught in the Headspace We’re In: Composition for Friends. Face Press, 2020.

Jameson, Fredric. “Periodizing the 60s.” Social Text, no. 9/10, 1984, pp. 178-209.

Katz, Daniel. The Poetry of Jack Spicer. Edinburgh Univ. Press, 2013.

Killian, Kevin. “Spicer and the Mattachine.” After Spicer: Critical Essays, edited by John Emil Vincent, Wesleyan Univ. Press, 2011, pp. 16-35.

Killian, Kevin, and Lewis Ellingham. Poet Be Like God: Jack Spicer and the San Francisco Renaissance. Wesleyan Univ. Press, 1998.

LaFrance, Danielle. Tentacle Rasa. Asterion Projects, 2020.

Mill, John Stuart. “Thoughts on Poetry and Its Varieties.” The Crayon, vol. 7, no. 4, 1860, pp. 93-97.

Nealon, Christopher. The Matter of Capital: Poetry and Crisis in the American Century. Harvard Univ. Press, 2011.

Nichols, Miriam. Radical Affections: Essays on the Poetics of Outside. Univ. of Alabama Press, 2010.

Roberts, Luke. Glacial Decoys. Free Poetry, 2021.

Spicer, Jack. After Lorca. White Rabbit Press, 1957.

—. After Lorca. 1957. NYRB, 2021.

—. The Collected Books of Jack Spicer, edited by Robin Blaser, Black Sparrow Press, 1975.

—. The House That Jack Built: The Collected Lectures of Jack Spicer, edited by Peter Gizzi, Wesleyan Univ. Press, 1998.

—. My Vocabulary Did This To Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer, edited by Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian, Wesleyan Univ. Press, 2008.

White, Gillian. Lyric Shame: The “Lyric” Subject of Contemporary American Poetry. Harvard, 2014.


Sam Weselowski is a PhD candidate in the department of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick, where his research focuses on urbanization and everyday life in postwar poetry and poetics. His critical writing has recently appeared in Canadian Literature. Poetry chapbooks I LOVE MY JOB and Other Than North were published by If a Leaf Falls Press and Gong Farm, respectively.