poem

March 2006

I was listening to a CD included in Peter Gizzi’s Exact Change Yearbook 1995—it was past midnight and I was able to concentrate enough to become involved with the poet’s voices. I was reminded of Robert Duncan’s idea of the poetry of derivation, where poets are links in a long chain that goes back and forward through time. I started to pick up on the echoes of other voices in each poet’s reading; there was a trace of Creeley’s voice in Ted Berrigan’s reading of his poem ‘Red Shift’ until towards the end where Berrigan loses control of the tone a little and you hear an edge of bitterness in his voice. (This reading was recorded at the Naropa Institute in 1982, only a year before he died in NYC.) Then Jack Spicer started reading his haunted and haunting Imaginary Elegies. I thought I knew Spicer’s work fairly well, however this reading opened up his poetry into an entirely new realm.

This is an extraordinary recording, it has the same kind of atmosphere as Yeats reading ‘Lake Isle’ or Wallace Stevens reading ‘The Idea of Order at Key West’. Someone has written it is like a voice from the grave. Towards the end of the last elegy there are the lines where Spicer tries to describe an image of God: He is the photograph of everything at once. The love/ that makes the blood run cold./ But he is gone. No realer than old/ Poetry’. It was around here that I imagined hearing an echo of Hart Crane’s voice, but there is no recording of Crane that has survived I know of, and I certainly haven’t heard his voice, even if a recording does exist.

This poem was published in One Night Stand & Other Poems, Jack Spicer (with a Preface by Robert Duncan), Grey Fox Press, 1980. This volume is edited by Donald Allen and has a substantial Editor’s Note; the Preface by Robert Duncan is wonderful, and a key to the book.

Imaginary Elegies: IV

Yes, be like God. I wonder what I thought
When I wrote that. The dreamers sag a bit
As if five years had thickened on their flesh
Or on my eyes. Wake them with what?
Should I throw rocks at them
To make their naked private bodies bleed?
No. Let them sleep. This much I’ve learned
In these five years in what I spent and earned:
Time does not finish a poem.
The dummies in the empty funhouse watch
The tides wash in and out. The thick old moon
Shines through the rotten timbers every night.
This much is clear, they think, the men who made
Us twitch and creak and put the laughter in our throats
Are just as cold as we. The lights are out.
                                                   The lights are out.
You’ll smell the oldest smells—
The smell of salt, of urine, and of sleep
Before you wake. This much I’ve learned
In these five years in what I’ve spent and earned:
Time does not finish a poem.
What have I gone to bed with all these years?
What have I taken crying to my bed
For love of me?
Only the shadows of the sun and moon
The dreaming groins, their creaking images.
Only myself.
             Is there some rhetoric
To make me think that I have kept a house
While playing dolls? This much I’ve learned
In these five years in what I’ve spent and earned:
That two-eyed monster God is still above.
I saw him once when I was young and once
When I was seized with madness, or was I seized
And mad because I saw him once. He is the sun
And moon made real with eyes.
He is the photograph of everything at once. The love
That makes the blood run cold.
But he is gone. No realer than old
Poetry. This much I’ve learned
In these five years in what I’ve spent and earned:
Time does not finish a poem.
Upon the old amusement pier I watch
The creeping darkness gather in the west.
Above the giant funhouse and the ghosts
I hear the seagulls call. They’re going west
Toward some great Catalina of a dream
Out where the poem ends.
                                   But does it end?
The birds are still in flight. Believe the birds.

~ Jack Spicer