The Future of Autobiography

Anti-individualist, anti-lyrical goals for modern poetry come in two flavors: the first makes the poet superhuman, capable of exploring or channeling forces (be they political, visceral, or thaumaturgical) more important than one life can be. The second makes the poet disappear, revealing (through comedy, parody, collage, critique) his and our imbrication in powerful systems (literary, economic, linguistic, and so on) that seem unaffected by our acts and beliefs.

Jack Spicer (1925–65)—whose collected poetry, newly edited and annotated, appeared in 2008—has now become such a popular model in part because he seemed to pursue both sets of goals, seeking, for example, in one book of poems and letters “intimate communion with the ghost of García Lorca,” then deciding that his quest was “a game made out of summer and freedom and a need for a poetry that would be more than the expression of my hatreds and desires.” If autobiographical lyric reflects the poet’s inner life, poetry after Spicer must come from “outside” (Spicer said his poems came in radio signals from Mars). And if autobiographical lyric comes in single, separable, individual poems, poetry after Spicer comes in “projects,” books as self-referential series, flaunting their dependence on one another as well as on prior texts.

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