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Jack Spicer Biography

(1925–65), After Lorca, The Collected Books of Jack Spicer, Billy the Kid

language american poetry poet

American poet, born in Los Angeles, educated at the University of California, Berkeley. Spicer lived most of his life in California, combining poetry with the professional study of linguistics. Spicer and Robert Duncan were equally energetic in their responses to the writings of others; despite their shared interest in the occult, however, there were many differences between them, particularly regarding Spicer's increasingly Manichaean view of the world. The completion of After Lorca in 1957 was the major turning point in his development as a poet, serving as it did to commit Spicer entirely to the composition of serial poems, a decision honoured by Robin Blaser in his posthumous edition of The Collected Books of Jack Spicer (1975), a volume which also included such notable work as Billy the Kid (1959), The Heads of the Town up to the Aether (1962), The Holy Grail (1964), Language (1965), and Book of Magazine Verse (1966). As the Vancouver lectures in 1961 demonstrate, After Lorca also persuaded Spicer that the true poem had utterly mysterious origins, which he sometimes likened to messages from outer space, inevitably scrambled by the imperfections implicit in the language we use to translate them. The more esoteric resonances of this belief were offset by Spicer's use of American vernacular language. Spicer's witty, tough-minded, and surreal poetry frequently rewrites mythology in the light of his own conception of the doom of homosexual love, an approach which gives particular poignancy to his version of Billy the Kid. Spicer's alcoholism ensured an early death, but his work continues to exert a central influence on the development of American poetry. See also San Francisco Renaissance.

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