Amidst the recent (and ongoing) controversy surrounding the publication of Nabokov’s last, unfinished manuscript, The Original of Laura, Boston Review brings us this interesting piece on poet Jack Spicer.
First, a little biographical detail:
Toward the end of his short life, Jack Spicer began to relax some of
his purist principles about the publication and circulation of his
poetry. In 1964, impoverished and unable to hold down a job, he
consented to allow Lawrence Ferlinghetti to sell his books at City
Lights bookstore in San Francisco, officially ending his long-standing
boycott of a local institution he dismissed as a mere tourist
destination. “I still think I was right and poets don’t really need a
middleman and a middleman fucks up poetry,” he explained. . . . The sacramental sharing of poetry among fellow poets should occur at
street level, he believed, in the form of readings, evenings at the
bar, and ephemeral publications to be passed around by hand: Spicer
polemically forbade that his poetry be sent beyond the Bay Area, and he
ridiculed institutions like Poetry magazine for fostering ignominious societies.
Spicer, who died at 40 in 1965, left behind a large body of unfinished work that he asked never be published:
Then, in 1975, Black Sparrow’s landmark edition The Collected Books of Jack Spicer—intended
“for Jack’s friends” according to editor Robin Blaser—honored another
of Spicer’s wishes: that his early work, which he had famously
disowned, be considered separately, if at all, from the serial poems
begun in 1957 with the composition of the breakthrough After Lorca. When an assortment of pre-Lorca poems appeared in 1980 in the aptly titled collection One Night Stand and Other Poems, editor Donald Allen recalled these provocative instructions from Spicer’s letter to Blaser, first printed in the book Admonitions:
“So don’t send the box of old poetry to Don Allen. Burn it or rather
open it with Don and cry over the possible books that were buried in it
. . . all incomplete, all abortive, because I thought, like all
abortionists, that what is not perfect had no real right to live.”
And by now, you all must know what’s coming:
Twenty-eight years later, the long-awaited publication of My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer honors the “right to live” of all
of Spicer’s poetry, by collecting both early and later work, along with
a substantial number of poems exhumed from Spicer’s private notebooks,
which Blaser and Spicer’s brother Holt donated to the University of
California, Berkeley’s Bancroft Library in 2004.
It’s a good essay, well-worth reading in its entirety.