With an Introduction by Jack Spicer
I decided to accept the invitation to write this introduction for Mr. Marika-Rich after much thought and debate. I was flattered that someone would write a piece, which in my estimation attempts a response to some of my poetry, but much of what you are about to read is offensive in my eyes.
I am not going to say that Mr. Marika-Rich failed to understand my ideas, but he maybe has failed to enact them to their full extent. What I mean to say is that these writings often focus on my own process, an odd subject choice for a poet forty years after I have left to say the least. Not only that, but the writings that don’t focus on my work and how they were created refer instead to the problems of words.
Now, I am well aware of what has been called the “Language Movement” and I can see some of the formal delights that come out of such poetry, but you must work with the words and sculpt them. Diminish them but do not obliterate them with random letters spilled onto a page of nonsense. To be fair, this collection does not go into some of the overly formal, structural nonsense, which I have seen in the past. Mr. Marika-Rich has taken it on himself to work within the parameters I, myself, worked in before my demise.
This young writer has restricted himself in this piece, through his reproduction of my style, and while I myself do not believe that one should have to enact formal rules in order to keep oneself out of their poetry, I do understand that for some it can be a necessary exercise. In the case of this particular collection, the formal decisions made by Mr. Marika-Rich are his way of keeping himself out of the poetry and thus containing the writings within my own methods, or so the theory goes.
I am not going to say that the following works are truly successful reproductions of my own work, but I will say that if the reader is able to put the formal exercise of the pieces aside they will be able to experience an interesting collection, even if it does seem unfinished to me.
Outside San Francisco, May 2009
Ballad of the Twilight
A Translation for Erik Marika-Rich
The abstraction of wind on a peaceful tadpole.
Confused stones smooth the grey-green.
He sees the flowery beast
And the vicious beauty of its presence.
If the word could be lost and leave thought
Without the abstraction of confused letters on grey-green stones.
Beauty could make the stones peaceful despite the vicious wind.
Lost feet shuffle beneath the twilight from which the stones are formed.
But the tadpole is blind to his beauty.
A head full of stones traps the flowery twilight
And the beast becomes an abstraction lost in the grey-green.
He smoothes the stones with shuffling feet
But the beast is lost for the vicious tadpole
In the confused twilight of the grey-green wind.
A Translation for Jasmine Araujo
In the womb
Your fading pupils
And all of the lost charm
The birds can all see you now
What have I done
In the womb
Slippery and alone
Found in your white eyes
Cigarettes and snow peas
I am useless
What have I done
In the womb
All of my rats scatter
Stuck in my telescope
Proving love and disdain
In the womb
Lost in my stench.
The idea of the perfect poem fascinates and vexes me, such pure communication sitting just out of reach. I thought, in my exploration of your work, that I might attempt a poem that touches reality in the way your poem of lemons and moons theoretically would.
The inevitable problem, which of course you saw, was the fact that a poem made completely out of reality would be difficult in terms of its “vocabulary”, which would be highly restricted by what would or would not be possible to put on paper (or any medium you could choose to hold the collection of reality). You have, on the other hand, said that the perfect poem would incorporate an infinitely small lexicon. This, it would seem to me, would no longer apply once poetry had moved outside of the medium of words. The idea of the infinitely small lexicon is based on pointing to reality while limiting the numbers of unintentional meanings in each line, a problem that you would be able to avoid more stealthily in writing with reality.
Also, the reality presented in the perfect poem would be changed by the reality of the materials being used as adhesive and the materials on which the poem is written. The other option would be to provide the pieces of the poem without any sort of backing, and instead transmit the poetry by including a written set of instructions to follow in order to give the reader the experience prescribed by the writer. Once again, this would fail to achieve the pure experience of the perfect poem simply due to the necessity of the instructions.
There comes a point at which one must admit that the perfect poem of which you once spoke is only a fantasy, an impossible ideal. The closest that we can get is to use existing mediums such as language. Words become the best tool we have because of, and despite their ability to point the mind to hundreds of images, smells, tastes, sounds, feelings, and ideas.
And so, Jack, I must continue to make my imperfect poetry and hope that it is enough to point to the real, as poetic movements continue to emerge and dissipate, all in the search of this unreachable, sublime moment of absolute meaning, or absolute truth. And I think it is for the best. While I am intrigued by the perfect poem I find that often what makes poetry so interesting are the failures of the words themselves.
JACK SPICER’S LAMENT
A Translation for Cole Heinowitz
(Jack Spicer enters carrying the Rooster.)
JACK SPICER (throws the Rooster and kicks it): This was mine! You stole my furniture!
(Buster Keaton rides by on a one-dimensional bicycle and laughs at Jack Spicer’s angry fist as The Angels are written in.)
JACK SPICER: My loneliness is my art. (looks up at the angels) Your broadcast is my poetry.
THE ANGELS: There are four of us now.
THE ROMANTIC (crawls in and eats one of The Angels): This is the line where my rhyme will keep you in time!
JACK SPICER (Grins and hits the melancholy ground): Maybe you like your straight jacket, but only because your nose is itching! I am too lonely for such things.
THE ROMANTIC (turns onto his side and dies): Ah Ha! Now I am ready.
JACK SPICER (laughs loudly and takes a picture): Now you are the perfect poet. What I need is a letter opener. Do you have one?
THE ROMANTIC: But of course I am dead!
(The Fetus walks by quietly smoking nothing.)
JACK SPICER (grabs The Fetus and locks it between his knees): And you? You must have a letter opener.
THE FETUS (lays down and looks at the clouds bewildered): But of course I am a fetus!
(Jack Spicer swallows The Fetus and sits silently for one hour. The Romantic rots away as he decorates his room.)
JACK SPICER (yelling): I need to open letters! How will I furnish my room? (he puts his head on the mahogany) And you? I know you have one! I have seen it before.
THE ANGELS: But of course there are three of us now!
JACK SPICER (pulls the letter opener out of his head and cuts the throat of one of The Angels.): Do you see what my revision has done?
BUSTER KEATON (rides backwards without his legs. The Angels whisper in his ear silently and Buster Keaton crashes into the patient crows.): Now we have done something admirable!
JACK SPICER (weeps and eats a book of matches): But of course there are two of you now!
THE ANGELS (laughing in their intestines): There are two of us now.
(A spotlight falls onto The Angels and they become mute. Jack Spicer adjusts his rabbit ears to no avail in the milky night of day. He spits blood into the dust and laps up the coagulation greedily.)
JACK SPICER (vomiting): It all tastes too much of my thoughts!
(Jack Spicer sits in his vomit and rests his head on the glass. A shower curtain falls over everything. It decomposes at an unnoticeably slow rate and the Angels finally begin to build their gramophone.)
BALLAD OF THE DIRTY GLASS
A Translation for Jason Rich
The empty vases impregnate the child who only sees dirty glass.
“Someday you will give birth to meaning”
The building whispers.
The tongue electrifies with the thought of glassy treasure.
The building continues to grind against the child’s flesh.
The fingers twitch to the strange new pleasure.
The building reaches into the child’s mouth
And slowly pulls out the shards of glass.
“Someday I will pull a vase out of you”.
The man regurgitates a polished vase
And puts it in the corner with the others.
He loathes his dull collection
Yearning for the treasures he once saw.
He sees the building now and resents the rough edges.
“The meaning you promised is not reality.
I collect and polish my prizes, but the vases do not hold my thoughts.”
The building looms silently.
A Translation for Dana Steinhoff
Now you see my cardboard.
Distraught on infinite feathers
How they float in your river
Can’t you see my shouting?
Shout into my eyes
--- Envelope yourself.
We are almost hear
Here my published secrets.
I hope you are happy now. The words must come easy now that you are just an empty vessel. But what use is it now? Are the words still not trapped from the rest of the world? Have the martians come to you? Befriended you? Helped you? Or have you simply become a martian?
I am writing you letters while you lay in your grave. Does that not prove that you are a martian? That Federico Garcia Lorca was a martian? That we all can become martians? With a little bit of time and hard work I too could be a martian in my death.
That is when I would truly be a poet. Is that what you wrote of fifty-two years ago? The words would be mine at last, though none of the livings would know it. You could look back at my living works and call them precursors to the dead works, but I would only be credited for the words of others and be denied involvement with my own words.
That seems tragic, and yet it is the only thing that a poet could ever hope for (assuming the poets understanding of the nature of poetry). You have become the dead man you always wanted to be. If only I could be so lucky.
JACK SPICER’S FURNITURE
(The chorus of gramophones plays thirstily in the distance. Jack Spicer taps his heavy shoes but does not dance. The Angels are nowhere to be seen.)
JACK SPICER: Ah! Now we are looking!
(Jack Spicer’s mind runs off with his fingertips. He laps up the powerful ink and smiles like a young boy who just saw something he wasn’t meant to.)
(The Ghost walks in with his hammer and begins to hit Jack Spicer over the head. The Children giggle and cry. Jack Spicer frantically eats his invisible fruits. The Hammer becomes meaty and The Ghost becomes still.)
THE GHOST: Well, here we are. We have not helped construct the moon at all, covered in floating distraction.
THE HAMMER (bleeding profusely): Can’t you see I’m busy?
(Jack Spicer stops eating and rips his teeth out. The Children roll about, laughing. Jack Spicer glues teeth to wood.)
JACK SPICER (staring at a headless beetle): I am done now, you can take my television.
THE BEETLE: I will have that alcohol and wash my wings.
THE CHILDREN: Can’t you see we’re busy?
(The drizzling stars fall into place as the mechanized mad man takes to the streets. Jack Spicer cannot be judged. The Children scatter, filled with their experience.)
THE HAMMER (smiling up at the stars): Follow me! We will create an ottoman on which you may rest.