Tuesday, April 7, 2009

STL #81: Jack Spicer

While going through the Allen anthology has introduced me to many enjoyable voices, reading Jack Spicer for the first time makes me feel I'm in the presence of something truly great. I had heard of Spicer, but this isn't what I expected. (The great stuff never is.) "Imaginary Elegies I-IV" seems to both embrace and push away the Poundian Imagist standard that undergirds so many of these poetics. Spicer said in his "Letter to Lorca" that he "would like to make poems out of real objects" like a collage artist does. But he comes out against images as such; he wanted "to make things visible rather than to make pictures out of them." Over time, things "become garbage" but poetry, by making visible, can correspond, co-respond, to the world.

"Imaginary Elegies" begins with a consideration of this correspondence. It begins "Poetry, almost blind like a camera/Is alive in sight only for a second." If poetry captures images of say a specific bird in flight, it is only "the continuous Platonic pattern of birds flying" that lets us hold it in our mind. We use "disciplined adjuncts/To the moment of sight" to make sense of our impressions. As a poet then, Spicer might write of the sun, but really would rather "praise the very tall blond boy/Who ate all my potato chips at the Red Lizard." It's the Platonic ideal that provides the center of discourse. That's all well and good--the real turn comes in the next section when he describes the moon as "God's big yellow eye remembering /What we have lost or never thought." This isn't a normal eye, not a " yellow camera. It perceives/What wasn't, what undoes, what will not happen." But, in the third stanza, "God's other eye is good and gold." This Apollo's eye is accurate and absolute as opposed to the questioning tentative Dionysiac moon-eye. The poet is to "be like God" and use these two eyes.

But the final section of the poem (and presumably the last of four elegies, though it's not clear how that works) what that injunction means, or more precisely "what I thought/When I wrote that." That thought is gone, "No realer than old/poetry." Though "Time does not finish a poem," Spicer seems to be waiting it out in this fourth stanza. The originating image that inspired this poem is far gone, all that is left is moderated by memory and language. The poem ends with a more modest directive than "Be like God." Instead, "The birds are still in flight. Believe the birds." Yet we are left with the same conundrum of the image. Is this "the Platonic pattern of birds flying" that we believe or the real birds at a real moment in time?