Poetry is a form which makes infrequent appearances on the Ramblings, mainly when I return to my ongoing project of reading through the Penguin Modern Poets collections. I do love to read poetry, but don’t always get to it enough; however, I’ve recently started to take notice of the NYRB Poets imprint. The publisher was kind enough to send me a copy of “Magnetic Fields” by Andre Breton and Philippe Soupault, which I absolutely loved; and a recent arrival from them, in the form of “After Lorca” by Jack Spicer, sounded fascinating. Spicer is a new name to me; working in the middle of the last century, he was part of the San Francisco Renaissance and despite his short life made a lasting impression with his poetry and has also been described as “a quiet, unsung hero of the LGBTQ+ art movement”, producing six short books of work during that brief life.

“After Lorca” was published in 1957 and it’s an intriguing collection of writings; as is hinted at in the title, it takes its inspiration from the great Spanish poet Lorca; and claims that the poems are translations. The book comes with a foreword from beyond the grave by Lorca himself(!), and the poems are interspersed with letters from Spicer to Lorca. It’s not clear which poems really *are* translations from Lorca, and which have been written by Spicer himself; or indeed how accurate any translations may be. What is clear, however, is what wonderful poetry this is…

At ten o’clock in the morning
The young man could not remember.

His heart was stuffed with dead wings
And linen flowers.


I always find that I prefer poetry to which I can respond instantly; whether I feel I understand it, or whether I’m just hit by the sound of the words, I want to have that connection with the work and the poet straight away. That was certainly the case with Jack Spicer; his verse is beautiful, often allusive and very atmospheric. The poems speak of life, love, death and suicide – I guess often the major topics of verse! – and writing is vivid and wonderful. “He Died at Sunrise”, for example, is particularly stunning, with its repeated phrases and beautiful imagery.

At that time I’ll imagine
The song
Which I shall never sing.

A song full of lips
And far-off washes

A song fill of lost
Hours in the shadow…


The letters too are fascinating; it’s as if Spicer considered Lorca as a kind of spiritual mentor, the two poets in dialogue; and he uses these prose pieces to discuss the whole art of poetics. The poems appear to take place over a summer, with the final letter realising that the year is starting to draw to an end and the link between master and pupil is over. It’s a moving end to the work which seems to have a strong thread of melancholy running through it.

We want to transfer the immediate object, the immediate emotion to the poem – and yet the immediate always has hundreds of its own words clinging to it, short-lived and tenacious as barnacles. (Extract from one of the letters)

Spicer was of course writing at a time when the San Francisco beat poets (such as Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and Snyder) were making a name for themselves; yet from what I’ve read about him, he stood apart from them, refusing to copyright his poems, criticising the City Lights bookshop and at one point declining to publish his work outside California. However, I sensed in some of the poems a kind of kinship with Ginsberg, a common influence from Whitman, and I personally feel that his writing needs to be seen in the context of the time.

Anyway, “After Lorca” turned out to be a fascinating read. I was probably aided by the fact that I’ve read little Lorca, and what I have was a very long time ago! So to be honest, I wasn’t looking to see what belonged to which author, because in the end I think these poems and letters are just Spicer – and wonderful they are. I’ve included extracts from some favourite poems/letters, and I highly recommend this collection. It was a marvellous and unexpected delight, and evidence (if it were needed) that the NYRB Poets imprint is definitely worth exploring! 😀

(Review copy kindly provided by the publisher, for which many thanks!)