“My vocabulary did this to me” – supposedly the last words of Jack Spicer as he died in 1965 at the age of 40. They brilliantly illuminate his relentless passion for language and poetry.
It is hard to pin down Spicer’s work to a particular school or movement. While oral poetic practice played an important role in his work – not least in his belief in poetry as a form of magic or supernatural dictation – his poems however also show a tendency toward Deep Image, and his later work, with its particular emphasis on linguistics, seem to be close to the practice of the Language poets. One of his most outstanding ideas was his notion of “poetry as dictation”. In his understanding, the poet was able to act as a kind “radio” which could collect transmissions from the “invisible world" – a notion which set him apart from many other poets as it rejected the idea of poetry as an expression of a poet’s voice and will.
His influence on many poets of subsequent generations is certainly evident – not least for his involvement in the creation of the Six Gallery in San Francisco, the scene of the famous reading in October 1955 that featured the first public performance of Allen Ginsberg’s "Howl" and helped launch the Beat movement. Yet his legacy is controversial. As Christopher W. Alexander notes in his introduction to Jacket #7, Spicer is popularly cast in a variety of ways from post-identity theoretician to a pre-structural post-structuralist, from an ideological critic of his time to a superstitious basket case. But the lyric beauty and formal inventiveness of his work has continued to draw people in, even after his death, making him – as the Poetry Foundation phrased it: “a towering figure in American poetry”.
http://jacketmagazine.com/07/index.shtml (Jack Spicer Special)