Log In Start studying!

Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|
Jack Spicer

Do you believe in Martians? Jack Spicer once said that "Martians" speak to him, and he transmits their language into poetry. Jack Spicer (1925-1965) was an American poet credited with the foundations of the Berkeley Renaissance, also known as the San Francisco Renaissance.

Jack Spicer, San Francisco, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Jack Spicer was part of the San Francisco Renaissance.

Jack Spicer is known for his poetic writing style known as dictated poetry and has written famous poems such as "Psychoanalysis: An Elegy" (2008) and "A Concord Hymn" (2008). He also famously wrote the book After Lorca (1957).

A Biography of Jack Spicer

Jack Spicer (born John Lester Spicer) was born on January 30, 1925 in Los Angeles. He had a fairly uneventful childhood, and Spicer attended the University of the Redlands. Upon graduating, Spicer worked as a private investigator. In 1945, Spicer moved to Berkeley where he lived with the science fiction writer, Philip K. Dick. There Spicer began doing research at the University of California and began to publish his poetry. His research was related to the linguistics of Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse. While living in Berkeley, Spicer, alongside Robert Duncan and Robin Blaser, joined the Berkeley Renaissance. During this time, he wrote the poetry collection One Night Stand and Other Poems (1980).

The Berkeley Renaissance, also known as the San Francisco Renaissance, began in the 1940s by Kenneth and Madeline Gleason and merged with Jack Spicer, Robert Duncan, and Robin Blaser. The group made its debut at the First Festival of Modern Poetry at the Lucien Labaudt Gallery in San Francisco in 1947. The group emphasized the importance of returning to formalism and the principles of modernism. Literary styles varied among the poets, but they all believed in the uniting principle of writing poetry that reacted to current events such as climate change.

In 1954, Spicer founded the now famous Six Gallery, which is related to the founding of the Beat Movement, despite Spicer's dislike of the Beat poets. For a brief period, Spicer moved to the east coast but moved back to the west in 1956. Now living in San Francisco, Spicer began to write the book After Lorca, which spoke on a new direction of poetry influenced by Federico Garcia Lorca's "cante jondo", a type of poetry influenced by Flamenco music. After 1957, Spicer's poetry became known as dictated poetry. Dictated poetry, according to Spicer's belief, states that the poet is a host, and can express language that is given to them from a sort of spirit world, rather than self-expressing the poet's thoughts.

On August 17, 1965, Jack Spicer fell into a pre-hepatic coma caused by alcohol addiction. He died that day at the San Francisco General Hospital. In 1975, The Collected Books of Jack Spicer was published, which contained Spicer's poetry from 1957 onward and continued Spicer's legacy and impact.

Books by Jack Spicer

A majority of Jack Spicer's poetry books were published posthumously. His most famous books include One Night Stand and Other Poems, After Lorca, My Vocabulary did this to me: Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (2008) and The Collected Books of Jack Spicer.

After Lorca (1957)

After Lorca is a book by Jack Spicer that includes English translations of Lorca's poems as well as poems written by Spicer in the style of Lorca. The book also contains a series of letters in which Spicer imagines conversations with Lorca about poetry. In this Post-Modernist book, the dead poet's words are brought to life with an introduction "written" by Lorca.

Post-Modernism is a literary movement from the late 20th century that values subjectivism, the absence of absolute meaning and reason, metafiction, and an emphasis on the different perspectives in which one can tell a story.

In it, Lorca describes how he sent Spicer poetry Lorca would've liked to have published after his death. Spicer's concept of Didactic poetry is fully played out in this book, as the poetry of Lorca is told to Spicer, who acts as the host, and Spicer writes them down for Lorca. In this way, Spicer has no self-expression and is merely acting as Lorca's physical form.

My Vocabulary did this to me: Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (2008)

It was recorded that Spicer's last words were, "My vocabulary did this to me. Your love will let you go on," which is where the title of this poetry collection originated from. My Vocabulary did this to me: Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer contains numerous poems written by Spicer after 1957 that reveal his nature. As mentioned earlier, Spicer believed poets were merely transmitters of language sent by what he called "Martians".

Jack Spicer, Vintage Radios, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Jack Spicer believed poets were like radios transmitting signals.

In the poetry of this collection, the tone of each poem varies from moody to lonely, to patient, and within each poem, a sense of Spicer's personality can be found, despite his belief that poetry was not self-expressive. Furthermore, his poetry ranges in style within this collection from prose to other traditional forms of poetry.

No one

Has lots of them

Lays or friends or anything

That can make a little light in all that darkness…"

("For Hal", Lines 1-15)

In this snippet taken from a poem from My Vocabulary did this to me: Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer, the reader can perceive the lonely tone of the speaker. Loneliness is imagined as darkness to which nothing can bring enough light to brighten it. Spicer is relaying the message that everyone is lonely, and we try to fill the void with friends or food, but in the end, nothing will change the person's state of being. It is a fatalistic point of view.

Poems by Jack Spicer

Spicer was initially against publishing his poetry. Eventually, due to financial purposes, Spicer began to publish his work, but he did stand firm that he would never copyright his poems. Spicer wrote many poems during his short lifetime. His poetry was what he called dictated poetry, and he believed poetry to be magic. His poetry takes source material found in the world and uses language and vocabulary to hint at a more in-depth meaning for the object. In this way, Spicer's poetry is related to Dadaism.

Dadaism was an art movement that was a reaction to the extreme violence of World War 2 that negates traditional values, focuses on irrationality and randomness, and expresses the freedom and spontaneity of the artist. Spicer's poetry mirrors Dadaism in its lack of rationality and its randomness, while also expressing the spontaneity of the poet's transmitted words. Famous Dadaists include Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, and Max Ernst.

Let's take a closer look at three of Spicer's most famous poems: "A Concord Hymn," "Psychoanalysis: An Elegy", and "A Diamond" (2008). Each poem comes from the poetry collection, My Vocabulary did this to me: The Collected Poems of Jack Spicer.

"A Concord Hymn" (2008)

"A Concord Hymn" is a poem written in iambic trimeter and contains 10 lines.

Iambic trimeter is a meter of poetry that contains three iambs per line which is equal to two metrical feet. The first syllable is unstressed, and the second syllable is stressed.

Here is the beginning of the poem:
Your joke
Is like a lake
That lies there without any thought…" (Lines 1-3).

The first three lines immediately set the tone for the poem. The speaker holds a sarcastic tone and tells the "you" in the poem, that the joke they had just spoken is substanceless. The speaker emphasizes the mindlessness and carelessness of the joke by using a simile to compare it to a thoughtless lake and an extended metaphor that does the same.

An extended metaphor is a type of metaphor that spreads over multiple lines or sections of poetry or prose. A metaphor is the comparison of two unrelated concepts to symbolically make a point.

"Psychoanalysis: An Elegy" (2008)

"Psychoanalysis: An Elegy" is a poem in which the speaker is asked repeatedly, "What are you thinking about?" and the speaker responds with whatever random thought is on his mind. It mirrors the way psychoanalysis is done. An elegy is a type of poem that is a serious reflection on life and is usually a lament for the dead. Therefore, this elegy is a serious reflection on the thoughts of the speaker and what value they hold.

What are you thinking now?
I’m thinking that she is very much like California.
When she is still her dress is like a roadmap. Highways
Traveling up and down her skin
Long empty highways
With the moon chasing jackrabbits across them
On hot summer nights."(Stanza 3, Lines 32-38)

For example, the speaker is asked a third time what they are thinking about. In the prior two stanzas, the speaker had been thinking about the deadly heat of California's summers, which is what he returns to in the last stanza. However, in the third stanza, the speaker starts talking about a woman and her body, which he compares to California and its natural landscape. The poem reflects that the mind will unconsciously reveal its deepest thoughts with enough probing.

"A Diamond" (2008)

"A Diamond" begins by stating that the poem is a translation for "Robert Jones". This is about Spicer's belief that the poet is like a radio transmitting a signal. In this case, the speaker is transmitting a message to Robert Jones.

The universe falls apart and discloses a diamond
Two words called seagull are peacefully floating out where the
waves are.
The dog is dead there with the moon, with the branches, with
my nakedness
And there is nothing in the universe like diamond
Nothing in the whole mind."(Stanza 6, Lines 13-19)

The poem relates a series of random images: a diamond, a moon, dogs, and a seagull. In the final stanza, the objects come together irrationally to create an in-depth meaning for the poem. In this way, it does seem like the speaker is saying random messages transmitted to him with the final stanza being his translation of those random messages. The final message can be interpreted as a description of a surrounding: two seagulls floating on water and a dead dog in the moonlight near the naked speaker. Then, the speaker relates the universe to the mind, in which a diamond sits. The diamond is representative of a precious, unique thought that sits in the mind of a poet.

The Writing Style of Jack Spicer

Jack Spicer's writing style is complicated, but his unique way of expressing language makes his poetry stand out. His poetry is formulaic in the sense that his poetry will point to materials that are resting in his mind and are then spoken through a transmission.

Jack Spicer, Pen Writing, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Jack Spicer has a unique, seemingly random writing style.

The words may seem random and irrational, but they always have a more profound meaning. Spicer also employed many traditional literary techniques in his work such as metaphors, similes, and anaphora. He also includes vivid imagery that is usually related to a series of random objects present in the poet's mind.

Quotes by Jack Spicer

Let's take a closer look at quotes written by Jack Spicer that will provide better insight into his writing style and poetry as a whole.

Dear Lorca,

When I translate one of your poems and I come across words I do not understand, I always guess at their meanings. I am inevitably right. A really perfect poem (no one yet has written one) could be perfectly translated by a person who did not know one word of the language it was written in. A really perfect poem has an infinitely small vocabulary." (After Lorca, Second Letter to Federico Garcia Lorca)

In this quote from Spicer's book, After Lorca, the reader can see the intimate relationship Spicer has crafted with the poet, Federico Garcia Lorca, who had been dead for nearly 20 years. The concept of the book is that Lorca is speaking through Spicer to translate and compose poetry he didn't have a chance to while he was alive. Here, Spicer speaks about having the ability to translate poems without understanding the meanings of the words, because he understands that perfect poetry is made up of a small vocabulary. It is an interesting statement on the nature of poetry from the perspective of Spicer.

Imagine Lucifer
An angel without angelness
An apple
Plucked clear by will of taste, color,
Strength, beauty, roundness, seed
Absent of all God painted, present everything
An apple is."(Lines 1-7)

In this poem "Imagine Lucifer" (2008) by Spicer, Spicer is comparing the angel Lucifer to an apple that has been stripped of all its attributes.

A poem
That has revised itself out of sound
Imagine, rhyme, concordance
Absent of all God spoke of, present everything
A poem is."(Lines 10-14)

Then, in the same poem, Spicer goes on to compare Lucifer stripped of his "angelness" to a poem that has been revised so much it is no longer a poem. In this extended metaphor and allusion to the Biblical story of the fall of Lucifer, Spicer is making a statement that the best, most beautiful, and strong poetry is poetry that hasn't been revised too much to fit expected constructs.

Jack Spicer - Key takeaways

  • Jack Spicer is a Post-Modernist American poet known for forming the foundations for the Berkeley Renaissance, also known as the San Francisco Renaissance.
  • Jack Spicer wrote what he called "dictated poetry" that was transmitted to him by "Martians", spirits, and ghosts.
  • Jack Spicer wrote many books on poetry, such as After Lorca and had posthumous poetry collections published such My Vocabulary did this to me: The Collected Poems of Jack Spicer.
  • Jack Spicer is famous for poems such as "A Concord Hymn," "Psychoanalysis: An Elegy," and "A Diamond."
  • Jack Spicer died at the age of 40 due to his alcohol addiction, but his impact on poetry has lasted for decades.

Frequently Asked Questions about Jack Spicer

Jack Spicer was 40 years old when he died in 1965.

 Jack Spicer (1925-1965) was an American poet credited with the foundations of the Berkeley Renaissance, also known as the San Francisco Renaissance.

On August 17, 1965, Jack Spicer fell into a pre-hepatic coma caused by alcohol addiction. He died that day at the San Francisco General Hospital.

Jack Spicer is from Los Angeles.

Final Jack Spicer Quiz

Question

When was Jack Spicer born?

Show answer

Answer

January 30, 1925

Show question

Question

Before becoming a poet, what job did Spicer have?

Show answer

Answer

Spicer worked as a private investigator

Show question

Question

What did Spicer study at the University of California, Berkeley?

Show answer

Answer

the linguistics of Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse

Show question

Question

What literary movement is Spicer associated with?

Show answer

Answer

Berkeley/ San Francisco Renaissance

Show question

Question

What was the main principle of the Berkeley/ San Francisco Renaissance?

Show answer

Answer

the importance of returning to formalism and the principles of modernism

Show question

Question

What did Spicer call his poetry?

Show answer

Answer

Dictated poetry

Show question

Question

Which book by Spicer marked a new direction for his poetry?

Show answer

Answer

After Lorca (1957)

Show question

Question

What poet influenced Spicer's change of poetic direction in 1957?

Show answer

Answer

Federico Garcia Lorca

Show question

Question

When did Jack Spicer die?

Show answer

Answer

August 17, 1965

Show question

Question

What is the main concept of After Lorca ?

Show answer

Answer

Translations of Lorca poems, poems written by Spicer but sent to him by Lorca, as well as letter correspondence between the poets. 

Show question

Question

What literary movement does After Lorca belong to?

Show answer

Answer

Post-modernism

Show question

Question

What are some of Spicer's most well-known poems?

Show answer

Answer

 "A Concord Hymn" (2008), "Psychoanalysis: An Elegy" (2008), and "A Diamond" (2008)

Show question

Question

What art movement inspired Spicer's poetry?

Show answer

Answer

Dadaism

Show question

Question

What meter is "A Concord Hymn" written in?

Show answer

Answer

iambic trimeter

Show question

Question

What is an elegy?

Show answer

Answer

a type of poem that is a serious reflection on life, and is usually a lament for the dead

Show question

Question

What literary techniques can be found in Jack Spicer's poetry?

Show answer

Answer

 metaphors, similes, imagery, and anaphora

Show question

Question

Who wrote "Concord Hymn"?

Show answer

Answer

Jack Spicer

Show question

Question

True or False: The poet's interest in psychoanalysis and psychology likely influenced the poem.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

What is the primary theme of the poem?

Show answer

Answer

The human mind

Show question

Question

True or False: The poem is written in free verse.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

What does water symbolize in Jungian psychology?

Show answer

Answer

The subconscious mind

Show question

Question

The entire poem is an example of which literary device?

Show answer

Answer

Epic simile

Show question

Question

"like a lake / that like" is an example of which literary device?

Show answer

Answer

Alliteration

Show question

Question

Which words does the poet repeat?

Show answer

Answer

"without any thought of water"

Show question

Question

What is the title an allusion to?

Show answer

Answer

Ralph Waldo Emerson's poem "Concord Hymn"

Show question

Question

True or False: The meaning of the poem is that people are reflective and brimming with energy like lakes full of life.

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

Who wrote the poem “Psychoanalysis: An Elegy”?

Show answer

Answer

Jack Spicer

Show question

Question

True or False: The poem mimics a session between a psychoanalyst and their patient. 

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

The speaker’s thought frequently return to the imagery of which state?

Show answer

Answer

California

Show question

Question

What two themes does the poem explore?

Show answer

Answer

The human mind and nature

Show question

Question

What does Santa Claus symbolize in the poem?

Show answer

Answer

False hope

Show question

Question

True or False: The speaker talks in free associations to try to reveal the subconscious mind and desires.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

How many times does the analyst ask what the speaker is thinking?

Show answer

Answer

5

Show question

Question

What is the tone of the poem?

Show answer

Answer

Bored, sarcastic 

Show question

Question

True or False: The poet makes suggestions of climate change and the end of the world.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

What does the poet use simile to compare peach trees in the city to?

Show answer

Answer

An awkward young horse

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Jack Spicer quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.