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My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry

4.43  ·  Rating details ·  832 Ratings  ·  51 Reviews
In 1965, when the poet Jack Spicer died at the age of forty, he left behind a trunkful of papers and manuscripts and a few copies of the seven small books he had seen to press. A West Coast poet, his influence spanned the national literary scene of the 1950s and '60s, though in many ways Spicer's innovative writing ran counter to that of his contemporaries in the New York ...more
Hardcover, 508 pages
Published November 30th 2008 by Wesleyan University Press
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Apr 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Who the FUCK are these people giving this book less than 5 stars!!!?

Anyway, FOR CRIPES SAKE, if you're reading this and have never heard of Jack Spicer before, I wish I was YOU. Meaning I wish I could read these poems all over again like a pretty young virgin. I would LOVE to be Spicer's virgin, eager with spoon and knuckle, lopsided and cock-eyed from the strain of the constant WHACK deep into these poems!


M. Sarki
May 24, 2013 rated it it was ok

It is my hope that at least one person will be glad I wrote this review. There will be no need to thank me. First off I want to express the great respect I have for the mind of Jack Spicer, for the seriousness in which he took his poetry, and the demands he placed on his students for them to do their very best work. It is also important to note that reading both the poems and lectures together concurrently offers more to the student of his verse and helps
Mar 26, 2013 rated it really liked it

Very glad and grateful that my oldest friend (a pretty dynamite poet in his own right, as it happens) has worked and hung out with Peter Gizzi for a long time now, who happens to be one of the editors of this collection.

Spicer's a guy who, it seems, is just starting to really get his due. In his own lifetime, the poor guy was often reduced to penury and obscurity, aside from the recognition and respect of a few other mostly Berkeley-based poets and small-press publishers.

Throw in some alcoho
Dov Zeller
Dec 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poems
I don't want to give this a rating. I am not sure why I did. Some things are even more beyond the "5 stars" than others. What makes a poem good? Imagine rating every poem with stars. If every poem ever written were in a big database and one read it and rated it between one and five stars. At least people would be talking about poems more.

It will take a long time for me, coming back to his work and walking away and sitting in front of the puzzle pieces trying to get a few edge pieces in and then
Sigrun Hodne
Oct 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Why I wanted to read Spicer?
What can I say?
Taste this:

Any fool can get into an ocean
Any fool can get into an ocean
But it takes a Goddess
To get out of one.
What’s true of oceans is true, of course,
Of labyrinths and poems. When you start swimming
Through riptide of rhythms and the metaphor’s seaweed
You need to be a good swimmer or a born Goddess
To get back out of them
Look at the sea otters bobbing wildly
Out in the middle of the poem
They look so eager and peaceful playing out there where the
Dec 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Well. Look I don't even know what to say. Will the nearest people to Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian please hug them. Will the nearest people to thirty dollars please hug this book. All people who have not read this book before one year has passed will not be my friends anymore.
Dec 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Dear Lorca,

I would like to make poems out of real objects. The lemon to be a lemon that the reader could cut or squeeze or taste—a real lemon like a newspaper in a collage is a real newspaper. I would like the moon in my poems to be a real moon, one which could be suddenly covered with a cloud that has nothing to do with ithe poem—a moon utterly independent of images. The imagination pictures the real. I would like to point to the real, disclose it, to make a poem that has no sound in it but the
Ted Burke
Apr 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
My Vocabulary Did This to Me
The Collected Poems of Jack Spicer
Edited by Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian

I am just finishing the “must read” poetry volume of the year, “My Vocabulary Did this To Me”, an anticipated republication of the poems by the late Jack Spicer, edited by Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian, and I have to admit that Spicer’s writing has me momentarily forgetting my prejudice against poems about poetry and poets and allowing myself to be knocked by the author’s third-rail wit
Robert Lashley
Aug 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Spicer is ignored by many beat-o-phobes who see any one involved in the SF School, New York School, and Beats as part of the same gang of nonsense avant-gardeists. That is a god damm shame.

I see his work as a progression of the conversation that Charles Olson started. One of the most moving subtexts of The Kingfishers was in the internal parodies of the crap pastoral poems so popular in American literature for a hundred years. Not just for it's snark, but it's underlying subtext, that the horro
Dec 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant poetry and extremely essential must have.
Peter Landau
Aug 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Who said that the right book will find you at the right moment in your life when you need it most? Someone did, but I can’t find the quote, which I heard Bookslut founder Jessa Crispin say on a recent podcast. Maybe its her quote, which wouldn’t surprise me, being that she’s my favorite literary critic. Whether I’m imagining the quote or just mangling it beyond Google’s software ability to uncover online, it’s true to my experience.

That was certainly the case with MY VOCABULARY DID THIS TO ME:
Christina Rau
Jan 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
This collection spans the career and intriguing life of Jack Spicer, and the title is, according to the book's notes, the last thing he said as he died. Quite dramatic. The collection travels into the absurd many times, and each time, it's brilliant (and mostly confusing, but still, brilliant). If you don't read it all, then read these gems:
"Berkeley In Times of Plague," "A Girl's Song," "Portrait Artist As A Young Landscape," "A Lecture In Practical Aesthetics," "A Night In Four Parts," "Imagin
May 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
I began reading Spicer and Robert Duncan and Frank Stanford all around the same time. I'm having surrealist overload.

Though I hate to do this because Spicer has his own very unique voice, I think he'd be okay, were he here, with this comparison: Spicer's poetry is the love child of Whitman , Lorca, and Ginsburg. There is a yearning for the sublime and Spicer's own sense that he is multitudes that is present from Whitman. He's got Lorca's freedom with language and darkness; and finally, there's G
May 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Once Spicer's voice gets in yr head, it is impossible to get out.
Jul 18, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
He had an idea about dictation, but for me the execution failed. I'd take O'Hara or Duncan over him.
Sean A.
Nov 29, 2012 added it
Shelves: poetry
i'm not giving this text a rating because one minute i felt very close to loving the text and then shortly thereafter somewhat exacerbated by the obtuse bitterness of it.
NEways, lets look at what Spicer is working with, in my opinion, since i've both read and listened to and really took to heart his lectures as a (slightly) younger poet. Spicer thinks of poetry as a series of, really, martian transmissions invading the poet's consciousness and compelling him to scribe these transmissions as po
M- S__
Sep 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
I began reading this idly at about two in the morning. A huge mistake. Spicer's poetry is difficult to put down. I finished this book in a daze with a couple dozen nearly indecipherable notes scrawled into a notepad. This stuff works in mysterious ways. It does all the wrong things and still keeps you engaged. Jack Spicer is rightly excluded from the big poetry movements of his era (I think) partly because he so often foregoes real artistry for some pretty bald, ugly, and clearly autobiographica ...more
Oct 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
How could I give this 4 stars? Am I some kind of idiot? Well, I think this reflects my frustration with collecteds in general. This was my first introduction to Spicer and I was struck by how familiar his voice was to me already--filtered as it has been to various degrees through many, many contemporary voices via the speaky casualness of the line, the turns of the language into pranky nonsense, sharp juxtapositions between high and low speech -- "Dead branches. Leaves / unable even to grimly se ...more
Sep 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
growing up in berkeley, and having some adolescent interest in both romantic and modernist poetry, i should have heard of jack spicer. but i hadn't. i cannot explain this. anyways i ran into his poem "Orfeo" somewhere (on a fucking bus maybe ?!?!) and i immediately bought this on the internet. it is great. it is a collection of all JS's published poetry as well as a lot of notebook stuff; as with all such completist editions, it contains a lot of things that i'm sure the author would never have ...more
Aug 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poems
this book completely changed the way i think about reading and writing. at times this book was too weird for me, i found it uninviting- the metaphors are so strange and far-fetched that i couldn't get into them at all... but he tells us "it does not have to fit together. like the pieces of a totally unfinished jigsaw puzzle my grandmother left in the bedroom when she died in the living room." i couldn't understand why the hell spicer has caused such a fuss. but after giving it a good amount of t ...more
Jan 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
I wasn't familiar with the poetry of Jack Spicer, so this has been a treat. Take a look especially at "After Lorca," in which he invents a letter from Lorca (actually a forward that Lorca is supposed to have written), as well as letters to Lorca and "translations" of Lorca poems. Read too his "Letter to Robin" in "Admonitions," in which he calls for poetry that's connected, poems that "echo and re-echo" against each other rather than individual lonely lyrics.
Jan 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This guy is weirder than he reads at first. His poems, really, are as lyrical and joy-
and loss-driven as any great poet's, but his interior patterning-- his dream-
language-- was morphemes and phonemes, rather than stone and river. He found
by pure feel what language poets and ethnopoetics poets and Black Mountaineeers
found by theory or by less humble interior journeys. The whole set called Homage
to Creeley
and the one called Language completely flattened me. Wonderful.
Carmen Montopoli
Feb 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, adult
This is great poetry. It's all (well not all, but largely) about how annoying it is to write, how the words are mortal enemies sometimes, and how it never works out like you plan. About the irritating beauty in it.

I wish I could talk to Spicer, for ten minutes. Or more accurately, commiserate with him. He seems like a guy I'd like.
Mar 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
This took me a while to read, the language is so rich and poems kind of sneak up on you. You'll remember a line months later. 1000 thank yous to Kevin Killian for the introduction and the gift. What a great collection.
James Debruicker
Dec 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I picked this up EXCLUSIVELY on the basis of the title, and was pleasantly surprised. Some funny poems, some sad poems, some really experimental poems, and a wonderfully confused letter from Lorca. Definitely worth checking out.
Jul 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I'm never actually sure how much I like him, but I am always put off guard, amused, intrigued, and frustrated with this collection. If nothing else he's a force, and I'm thankful that Gizzi got this into my hands.
Jun 22, 2008 marked it as to-read
Robert and I just got to peak through this fresh from the printers at Peter's house and it is great! I'm especially excited about his letters that have been included and so many gorgeous poems that are not anywhere else. Lovely!
Smai Fullerton
"A band of faggots cannot be built into a log-cabin in which all of Western Civilization can cower." - Jack Spicer
Apr 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing
How Ginsberg was influenced by Jack Spicer becomes obvious after reading this collection.
Jan 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
oh my god
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  • “A”
  • The Maximus Poems
  • The Sonnets
  • New Collected Poems
  • My Life
  • Collected Works
  • Recyclopedia: Trimmings / S*PeRM**K*T / Muse and Drudge
  • The Lost Lunar Baedeker: Poems of Mina Loy
  • The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley, 1945-1975
  • The Book of Frank
  • Deepstep Come Shining
  • The Opening of the Field: Poetry
  • The Outernationale
  • Grave of Light: New and Selected Poems, 1970-2005
  • Collected Poems
  • Next Life
  • Modern Life
  • Company of Moths
Jack Spicer (January 30, 1925 - August 17, 1965) was an American poet often identified with the San Francisco Renaissance. In 2009, My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer won the American Book Award for poetry.

Spicer was born in Los Angeles, where he later graduated from Fairfax High School in 1942, and attended the University of Redlands from 1943-45. He spent most of h
More about Jack Spicer...
“In hell it is difficult to tell people from other people.” 6 likes
“At least we both know how shitty the world is. You wearing a
beard as a mask to disguise it. I wearing my tired smile. I
don't see how you do it. One hundred thousand university
students marching with you. Toward
A necessity which is not love but is a name. ”
More quotes…