Reading Jack Spicer

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Reading Jack Spicer makes me sad. He was a lonely poet who wrote nakedly about loss and desolation. The beauty of those subjects, yes, sometimes, but also their persistence even in the face of great pain.

I have not been able to read poetry or have not felt up to reading much poetry lately except the poetry of a friend. Or prose which is in reality poetry.

“Lately” includes even times when I have read poetry because I feel that much guilt about it. I have looked at my poetry collections on my shelves or thought of poets that I have loved and wondered why I haven’t been reading them…

I almost purchased a collected edition of Zbigniew Herbert’s poetry because I wanted to read Report from the Besieged City but that seemed like overkill even though the collection was only something like seven or eight dollars.

It seemed like too much because I only wanted that one small part. I didn’t want more of what I wanted or some of what I didn’t know so couldn’t want.

This morning I sat on the chairs on my front porch and read Jack Spicer and thought about my own sadness which I have been, truthfully, not wishing to confront.

Reading poetry forces me to confront my own sadness and when I am in a mood of what can only be called assimilation I don’t wish to confront my sadness because it seems to me like my sadness will affect my ability to assimilate.

For a long time the only thought I had in my head was of or for assimilation but instead of doing anything about it I chose to read and write poetry. Now I am closer than ever to feeling like I can taste assimilation, true assimilation, and I wish I was reading poetry instead.

From where I sit now I can read or write poetry and I feel life will fall to me in crumbs which will be enough combined with poetry and art. I wish to be present and also not present. But that is a lazy way to do it and it forces me into binaries which are not consistent with true poetry.

Instead I should live as I wish to live. Part of that living perhaps involves developing more of a curiousity about those outside myself. I have for a long time been very guarded.

I read Herbert in her hot apartment with tension crackling in the air as it did at all times. It felt important what I was doing but it also seemed like if I coughed or moved my head in the wrong way I would undo it all. Which is not a way to live.

Perhaps I care too much about approval or disapproval. What I have been trying to articulate in this poem is that the tension in the air was poetry. Good or bad it was poetry. I felt not like a dissatisfied Socrates but his downtrodden disciple (higher than Socrates, higher than a pig) and the person I was dating was not Socrates but another philosopher who disapproved of him.

I remember driving up to the museum with a copy of Jack Spicer’s poems in my front seat which I badly wished to talk about to anyone who would listen, but not many of my friends there were very interested in poetry so I left the collection in the car on most days I volunteered.

I was so hungry for any crumb of life that I would rather do that. In my off time was when I could stalk the streets with great weariness and write little poems that were not fit even to print on index cards.

Poetry was in my heart then greater than it ever had been. And poetry was oppressing me even if it was the thing I needed most to live.

I was so hungry for life that I jumped too eagerly into situations that were not conducive to poetry because I did not wish it to oppress me any longer. Even though by then it was the greatest thing I had. Or the most loyal thing.

Poetry cannot be tamed. There will always be something terrible about poetry. It is the wind or an eagle I am choking on says Jack to paraphrase him without looking into the book. My sadness will probably never really go, no matter how eagerly I imagine futures where I am powerful. And how much I know that power is an illusion and not to be desired. I will probably always feel a little bit sad when I read poetry.

My friends, my sadness will probably never ever go and that is why poetry is so important to me.

Dream of Happiness


I am a ghost.

What’s real?

“They worked silently together, almost as if they were collectively dreaming.”

He was smoking a cigarette outside the back doors.

“You seem happier than before,” I told him.

“I am, it’s true.”

But I missed seeing him in his mania, refusing to take the subway from Manning and Bloor to Yonge and Bloor because of his desperation to see her. He’d take a taxi instead.

“My eyes are failing me…” Said the character in a book who spent his youth looking at all of the paintings of the Western canon.

What is the illusion of happiness?

“Perhaps,” he said, “your father never had the opportunity to really learn about himself. I mean, to reach his depths. And to discover how horrible he could be. ”

“Are you saying that’s why he was so insufferable?”

Some of us are able to imagine their own innocence… Like Britney Spears spelling “cinamin” on her grocery lists over and over again. A delusion, a dream.

Maybe some of us feel repulsed by belonging, through no fault of our own. And hate ourselves for feeling that way, even fleetingly. We would maybe prefer to dream a party than to attend one.

I’m always surprised by the generosity of my friends.

“He felt assaulted from every side, like he was facing a horde of bees.”

“My father never slept deeply. In the morning he looked the same as he had the night before. Like he was suspended, worn thin by living.”

The speaker’s jacket is torn on one of the sleeves.

“I can’t remember a time when my father didn’t have that look on his face.”

“What look?”

“The look they say she put in him. The mark of her.”

A man talks to his cat. “Of course I loved her. She was the only one that doubted that. But sometimes love isn’t enough…”

He wonders who he is really speaking to. We discount happiness and fetishize unhappiness.

In his sleep he dreams that he is facing uncanny evil on an island in the Antarctic, the furthest human settlement ever established. Buried in mountains and in snow.