Thursday, July 24, 2008

Spicer's ghost

Steven's post has inspired me--

I am intrigued by Jack Spicer's spooky poetics--see my posting below--so I'm glad to see this volume of his poetry coming out next month. (From posting on Silliman's blog).

My Vocabulary Did This to Me
The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer
Jack Spicer; Peter Gizzi, ed.; Kevin Killian, ed.

Wesleyan Poetry Series
Wesleyan University Press

August 2008


Ron Silliman's blog, Mon Dec 1/08

Some years ago I was writing an essay on Robin Blaser's poetics, and drew upon Jack Spicer's Vancouver Lectures. (Excerpts can be found in Allen and Tallman, Poetics of the New American Poetry, 1973.) In the lectures Spicer presents an anti-intentional view of composition, a poetics of dictation, "something from the outside coming in." This is not a new view of poetry, of course, poetry as inspiration, a "spiritual exercise," and the poet as an "empty vessel" (Spicer's words). But it's one that resonates for me. In another metaphor Spicer uses, the poem is a house one builds and language is the furniture. But it's nothing until one has set a table and opened it up to a guest. This process can be frightening--hence the locks, bolts, and peepholes on people's front doors. Spicer says of Denise Levertov, "The poems I like of hers are all poems that have scared her and that she didn't really want to have written." (Unfortunately he doesn't give the titles of those poems!)

This reminds me of a point made in an essay I posted a link to, a few entries back, an essay on Bernadette Mayer's experimental poetics. Referring to Burroughs as well as Mayer, Peter Baker refers to risk or danger as characterizing experimental, anti-intentional writing: "We are returned . . . to one of the root meanings of Experiment: that of peril or danger. Inherent in any Experimental Work . . . is what I like to call a giving up of individual or authorial control, the potential consequences of which are always marked by some kind of psychic danger."

Fearing that danger, we can lock the door against the guest and decide what the poem is all about and write it from that idea. But when I do that I feel huge and clumsy, like Alice in the White Rabbit's little house. I'm a fairly fearful person in everyday life and the poem is one area (the other is travelling alone) where I can open the door, at least a crack, to the guest. Or ghost. Who can pass through the wall, anyway.

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