Friday, December 12, 2008

"Thing Language"

Thing Language
by Jack Spicer

This ocean, humiliating in its disguises
Tougher than anything.
No one listens to poetry. The ocean
Does not mean to be listened to. A drop
Or crash of water. It means
Is bread and butter
Pepper and salt. The death
That young men hope for. Aimlessly
It pounds the shore. White and aimless signals. No
One listens to poetry.


Does anybody, nowadays, really listen to a poem, being read out in front of you, by someone you know, by a poet, who wants his poem to be listened to as much as to be read?

According to poet Jack Spicer - twice - in his poem here: No one listens to poetry. He likens a poem or, rather, poems, to “this ocean”. Like it, poems have their shortcomings, when compared with other media now available to us, like the TV, movies, videos, music, and many more of those 21st century mode of entertainment. Most of us would rather stick a pair of tiny earphones into our ears and lend them (as Shakepeare wrote "lend me your ears”) to the services of an iPod than to an actual poet, a live one.

Also, like this ocean, poetry has many, many guises. No matter, poetry, through the ages, is still surviving, still “Tougher than anything”. Still, “No one listens to poetry”, says the third line.

A dramatic pause there. Then, the subject from the first line is repeated, with emphasis, after that pause and ending at the end of the line, as a run-on to line four, which agrees that it – take it whichever you will, ocean or poetry – “does not mean to be listened to”.

Really? Not meant that?

Another dramatic pause, within the third of the line. The vast ocean is now strained of its “disguises”. We are given, now, “A drop” – at last, a poem! One poem, which is so loud, when read out, that it’s “a crash of water”.

Alas, it still “means/Nothing.”  The run-on here is strong, and the line it runs to end-stops just as powerfully, when it is the only word standing and with a full-stop into the bargain.  The new line, a word by itself, after this, is also solitary. “It” is another strong run-on.  

Those two one-liners are placed, strategically, in the middle of the poem.  The first has five lines before it, and the second also five lines, after it.  They are like mirrors: "Nothing" = "It"; "It" is "Nothing". Perfect symmetry. By the way, symmetry - and it cousin, parallelism - plays a major role in most good poetry.

To some poets, like Spicer, “It” – poetry – is their “bread and butter/Pepper and salt.” Big pause, again: it is “The death/ That young men hope for.”

Does the poet, or the poem, have a point or is he or it waxing “Aimlessly”, pounding the ocean’s (poetry’s) “shore”; merely “White and aimless signals.”

Is that why “No/One listens to poetry.” ?

Thing Language is from My Vocabulary Did This To Me: The Collected Poems of Jack Spicer , published this year by Wesleyan University Press.

Jack Spicer was born in 1925, in Hollywood, but lived only to 1965, in San Francisco.

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Blogger dreameridiot said...

Mmm... Somehow, I don't quite like how the first two lines jars against the proceeding lines, as well as the line "Tougher than anything", which for me sounds a little cliche, or at least out of place. But, the rest of poem works for me.

The metaphor of ocean as "Thing Language" is a wonderful choice, as the ocean in itself is both a 'thing' construed by words, and yet not a 'thing' in its unbounded state, and the fluidity of water as language which flows, language in mass as a "crash" of language and "drop" of language.

Then, poetry as ocean that does not necessary need to "mean to be listened to", and which, with the enjambment of the line "it means/ Nothing" carries the double aspect of poetry in trying to mean and yet means "Nothing".

I also love how "it" stands out so starkly as a "thing" and its emptiness in itself, but its meaning as poetry within the context of the poem.

The last two lines, and the use of enjambment (yet again), for me at least, is an affirmative call to the listening to poetry. i.e. 'No, One listens to poetry',

Thanks Leon for posting in my place.

5:16 PM, December 12, 2008  
Blogger Madcap Machinist said...

It is everything and everywhere. Why listen to poetry? We experience poetry.

5:34 PM, December 12, 2008  
Blogger dreameridiot said...

Yes, I think that was partly what the poem was getting at too, the pepper and salt etc. and it not having to mean to be heard.

My earlier comments are in part due to my Derridean immersion, haha.

5:49 PM, December 12, 2008  
Blogger Leon Wing said...

Thanks for all your comments.

DI, perhaps the first two lines are MEANT to jar a reader as sensitive to rhythms as you. In which case, Spicer would rest quietly in his grave; he won't be rolling about too much.

Yes, MM, poetry is everywhere, is everything. It's just we - or poets - have to strain the noises out and listen to the distilled music. My, don;t we sound so 60s, like hippies.

12:43 PM, December 13, 2008  
Blogger Miss Pathetic Poet said...

Wow..I really like this poem..thank you for posting it..It touches my's true..most people don't really "listen" to it..

12:11 AM, December 29, 2008  
Blogger Leon Wing said...

So glad someone still listens.

8:33 AM, December 30, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are posting this poem, and we are commenting on it; so some one is listening,(or atleast experiencing like MM says), right?
But it is kind of true that no one listens to or reads poetry today...not many anyway..crime novels are way more popular...but ironically, the comparison to an ocean brought these lines to my mind:
"For the tired waves, vainly breaking
Seem here no painful inch to gain;
For back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main."
These are from 'Say Not The Struggle Naught Availeth' by Arthur Hugh Clough.

3:37 AM, January 16, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And hey, Leon, I love poetry and I very much live in 2009...and whatever does 'distilled music' mean?

3:41 AM, January 16, 2009  
Blogger Leon Wing said...

'distilled music':

I actually implied the way we should, like some distilling process, remove the impurities of noise, so that we can hear the resultant 'music' of words/sentences/language.

Knowing some poetic techniques and some linguistics help you do this.

9:20 AM, January 18, 2009  
Blogger EMMA said...

This poem came in my master's degree test in a poetry course as an unseen text. It really effected me and I got A+ on my interpretation of the poem. The things you guys wrote were beautiful and I agree on all of them. I just want to add something I wrote in my exam , which is in the last couplet we have the word no stands on its own, which is a strong enjanbment. .the effect of it is that the poet wants us to listen to his voice, his frustration on on how poetry is being neglected and he wants to say no he doesn't want to accept this situation , but then we come to the final line to see the painful truth that NO one really listens to poetry !!

5:35 AM, January 24, 2019  

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