Poetry News

Liz Kinnamon Speaks to Us Through a Construction of Jack Spicer

By Harriet Staff


Liz Kinnamon stuns again with "Elegant Uprooted Things: Jack Spicer, California, and Psychoanalysis," published this week at the always-inspiring SFMOMA Open Space. Kinnamon grounds us with Spicer's first move, a wrenching in childhood from his parents in Los Angeles to the Midwest (further in, Kinnamon herself reverses the route, looking at "the particular brand of positive detachment known as 'West Coast chill'” as she moves from Tucson to Oakland).

“When Spicer reached his thirties, his misery about this expulsion catapulted him into a breakdown and analysis,” Kinnamon points out, quoting from Kevin Killian and Lew Ellingham's biography of Jack Spicer, Poet Be Like God.

...For someone who publicly joked about therapists and saw them as substitutes for fathers, he kept finding himself in the midst of their draw. Coren noted that Spicer’s wellbeing seemed to improve not long into their weekly meetings, and he even called on him in emergencies. When his job at Stanford changed from part- to full-time and his sessions were rearranged and decreased, Coren remembers that Spicer “had what he called a crisis”:

He had called and wanted to see me and we arranged an emergency session. He was thinking about quitting his job, wasn’t sure whether that was correct, or maybe was some response to the therapy. … At one point he became confused, down there [Stanford in Palo Alto] on campus and wondered what he was doing there, kind of lost touch with himself for a few seconds. He was again feeling suicidal at that point. 4

From various narrative scraps, it is possible to speculate that Spicer exhibited signs of the therapeutic process “working”: there’s evidence of interested entanglement in his inkling that analysis had something to do with panic over his job; some transference in his proudly telling Coren of his achievements in poetry’s social worlds; and a lot of ambivalence, especially toward the end, when Spicer’s resistance became more difficult and overt. It’s impossible to say why his averseness to going peaked at nine months into the process, but even the way he terminated the analysis is informative: he simply didn’t show up. When Coren called the number in Spicer’s file, artist Fran Herndon answered and informed him that Jack had left for Vancouver with no certain return date. 5 Perhaps he cared nothing for the relationship, but perhaps he thought his disappearance would be of no significance to Coren. Absenting appears to have been a reliable — and practiced — mechanism for dealing with relationships: if he didn’t matter enough to be missed, indifference was a portal, and he could find freedom through fugitivity. There also perhaps was a glint of malice in the termination, as Spicer used his sharp edge to provoke people into deeper relation with him — as his infamously oppositional flirtations attest.

So much more--including thoughts on "the potential consequences of keeping poetry and the personal separate,” long-distance therapy, digital communications, and poetry as a holding environment--can be read here.

Originally Published: October 26th, 2016