Follow Harriet on Twitter
Patrick James Dunagan Reviews New [Plus] Awesome Critical Study of Jack Spicer’s Poetry
Daniel Katz’s The Poetry of Jack Spicer at first nearly seems more belated than anything, yet gladly that’s proven not to be the case. This is the only existing book-length critical study consisting of a complete overview of Spicer’s body of work. Katz proves himself eminently up for the task. There’s little within Spicer criticism of which he does not manage to at least touch upon, accomplishing a thorough introduction that is not lacking in fresh insight. The bar is set high for future would-be Spicer critics and scholars. While the focus throughout remains scholarly, Katz’s general tone tends towards the conversational (with only occasional brief slides into academic jargon) and he does a highly efficient job filling in biographical detail without besotting his critical lens with heavy quoting of sources or random listing of facts. The result is an impressive condensing of a large amount of information, the offered judgment of which is all spot on.
If Katz fails to explore some areas, it is usually due to the fact that these remain either elements of Spicerian lore, rather than the nuts and bolts of his poetics, and there is a lack of thorough-going material available to draw upon for reference, or else it simply doesn’t pertain to his own argument and he’s unable to locate footing for a proper engagement with it here. This is where Katz’s book, at times, serves more as an introductory overview rather than as engaging original criticism in its own right. He makes no mention of Spicer’s interest in the Tarot, for instance. There is also little discussion of Spicer’s bioregional interests — his San Francisco-centric ideals get only passing reference, readers are directed elsewhere in footnotes.
Katz seems intent more on reading Spicer less as a California poet consumed by his own personal occult world in favor of just generally as a poet. He also makes no mention of California poet Robinson Jeffers, with whom Gizzi handily draws several corollaries to Spicer in his afterword to the Lectures. There’s no cause to feel that Katz is intentionally side-lining the occult or the politics of the local from Spicerian scholarship, only that these interests did not find a place within his own tackling of Spicer as a subject. Certainly, there are frequent openings where Katz leaves opportunity for further scholarship to explore these and other areas. At no point does it feel as if he’s refusing their relevance.
Read on at Your Impossible Voice.