In their introduction to my vocabulary did this to me, the book’s editors define Spicer as “one of our great poets of love and heartache.” Leaving aside the question why it would please anyone in this day and age to read poetry about such pathetic states—I think of Ted Berrigan’s fabulous line: “A man’s love is like a radiant horseturd”—a closer reading of Spicer’s total work indicates that he is thematically far more concerned about death and dying. A good example is found in the early poem:
Roses that wear roses
Roses that wear roses are dying
With a mirror behind them.
None of us are younger but the roses
Men and women have weddings and funerals
Are conceived and destroyed in a formal
Roses die upon a bed of roses
With mirrors weeping at them.
Here’s the crunch: It’s the late 1940’s and when I visit my favorite gay bar what I see is paper-maché roses and wall mirrors with gilt-edged frames and candelabras and maybe a small grand piano with bar stools around it—no, really: this is the Liberace era. Unlike straights who get married and have children and then die according to schedule, we homosexuals sit around in these gay bars and are all tarted-up like flowers being ogled by other homosexuals who also look like flowers, and our images are devoured like weeping mirrors on the wall that engulf our hopeless narcissism and thus we all perish. And did I forget to mention that this whole poem is awfully symbolic.
In his blog entry of December 1, 2008, Ron Silliman calls this poem a “gem,” and asks what other poet of this time would have outed himself in this fashion besides Robert Duncan. (Umm, well, Frank O’Hara? Allen Ginsberg?) What Ron is completely missing is not only the symbolic intentions of Spicer’s poem—Ron describes it as “searing love poetry”—but also the fact that the poem is if anything a rather huge attack on homosexuality and homosexuals.