Pure Poetry #13: Jack Spicer Breaks My Heart Into Small Pieces

Pure Poetry Week(s):

#1 – 2/23/2011 – Intro & Def Poetry Jam, by Riese
#2 – 2/23/2011 – Eileen Myles, by Carmen
#3 – 2/23/2011 – Anis Mojgani, by Crystal
#4 – 2/24/2011 – Andrea Gibson, by Carmen & Katrina/KC Danger
#5 – 2/25/2011 – Leonard Cohen, by Crystal
#6 – 2/25/2011 – Staceyann Chin, by Carmen
#7 – 2/25/2011 – e.e. cummings, by Intern Emily
#8 – 2/27/2011 – Louise Glück, by Lindsay
#9 – 2/28/2011 – Shel Silverstein, by Intern Lily & Guest
#10 – 2/28/2011 – Michelle Tea, by Laneia
#11 – 2/28/2011 – Saul Williams, by Katrina Chicklett Danger
#12 – 3/2/2011 – Maya Angelou, by Laneia
#13 – 3/4/2011 – Jack Spicer, by Riese


On the plane from Austin to New York we’d been fighting and now I was reading, Zadie Smith maybe (but definitely a book she’d gotten me, definitely a book she’d gotten me for Valentine’s Day when she’d gotten me all those books), when she wrote something on a piece of paper and stuck it into my book. Then she looked away. I was in the aisle seat, across from our friends Crystal & Caitlin. She was in the middle seat. A stranger was at the window.

I flipped my pages back to where the note was. I read the note.

“my number one feeling is: the heart breaks into small shadows”


So the heart breaks
Into small shadows
Almost so random
They are meaningless
Like a diamond
Has at the center of it a diamond
Or a rock

Being afraid
Love asks its bare question —
I can no more remember
What brought me here
Than bone answers bone in the arm
Or shadow sees shadow —

Deathward we ride in the boat
Like someone canoeing
In a small lake
Where at either end
There are nothing but pine-branches —

Deathward we ride in the boat
Broken-hearted or broken-bodied.
The choice is real. The diamond. I
Ask it.

(“Billy the Kid” Part IX)


See, she’d introduced me to Jack Spicer over a year prior, when we’d first met and she said she wrote poems and liked them and I asked her for her favorite poets. So I could either pretend to know them or look them up and therefore impress her.

She said: Lorca, Rilke, Jack Spicer. Generally as writers went, she was mostly into dead white guys. Jack Spicer was dead and white but also gay. I’d never heard of Jack Spicer. I found this website and I read all that was there and then maybe found some other things and then I realized that all the feelings in my heart were also in that poem, Billy the Kid.

So the heart breaks into small shadows almost so random they are meaningless

When madly in love, it read as a desperate, suffocating love poem.

When breaking into small shadows, it read as a eulogy.


I had a dream last night
That I was wrestling with you on the mountainside.
Was it a wet dream?
No I would tell you if it was a wet dream.
It was this poem
I wrestled with you in this poem
And it was not a wet dream.

(from ‘A Poem to the Reader of the Poem’)



Back then, when we first met and mailed each other letters for fun, because she was afraid if we spent too much physical time together she might eat me alive, I traced my hand onto a piece of paper and fit the words of Jack Spicer’s poems into the fingertips and then I mailed her the paper. It felt like a really poetic time.


There are rocks on the mountains that will lie there for fifty years
——– and I only lived with you three months

– (From III: Fifteen False Propositions Against G-d)


For her birthday, I wanted to make her a cake that looked like Jack Spicer. I’d joked that I would and so I had to.

I made it in a Darth Vader pan and drew Spicer’s nose with neon blue icing. Jack Spicer looks like one of the cartoony villans from Dick Tracy. I can’t remember if it tasted good. The cake.

Come to think of it, the day we were on that plane and she gave me that note was the day before her birthday. So one year I was making a Jack Spicer cake with no real intention of eating it (the real intention was, as all things are: love), and by the next year we’d eaten each other alive.


I was still thinking of Jack Spicer well over a year after that fight on the plane when Juan asked me for a quote.


The lemon tree
Could branch off into real magic. Each flower in place. We
Were sickened by the old lemon.

(from “six poems for poetry chicago”)


I felt like I knew what he meant by “the lemon tree could branch off into real magic.” But that there was no other way to say it besides the way that he said it.


This Ocean, Humiliating in Its Disguises

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.


No one listens to poetry. The ocean does not mean to be listened to. She’d remind me about this when I felt like nobody was listening. I tried to remember it. I am a drop or a crash of water. I mean nothing. This is where you begin with a life, this is where you kneel into the earth and start scrambling upwards. These are the big ideas we had on the ground.


Sex should be a frightening experience like a dirty joke or an angel.
An unvert must not be homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, or autosexual. He must be metasexual. He must enjoy going to bed with his own tears.

– from The Unvert Manifesto


A great deal of time later I moved into a new apartment with my best friend natalie and her other friend and later on, natalie’s boyfriend peter, and I hung “The Unvert Mainfesto” on the wall. When natalie’s other friend moved out we found this tall beautiful tattooed lesbian, Anna, to move in.

She had darkish skin and dark hair and giant brown eyes that always looked right at you. We were all so in love with her — me, and natalie and peter and also my girlfriend then, alex. We all had crushes on Anna. I can’t explain the way she looked at people but it was a WAY. Anna’s girlfriend had curly red hair and was in a band and lived in Brooklyn.

Anna was studying poetry & theology and so when I asked her about her favorite poets and she said Jack Spicer I nearly died. She was the second person I’ve known to like/know of him — and she had a book! BOOKS! I’d never been able to find a book. I’d looked everywhere for a book!

It was so simple. She went into her room and got a Jack Spicer book and brought it to me and then I had it.


Trees in their youth look younger
Than almost anything
I mean
In the spring
When they put forth green leaves and try
To look like real trees
Honest to God my heart aches
When I see them trying.

– (from VII “Fifteen False Prepositions Against God”)


Back when I became obsessed I had wanted the books.

My ex had Spicer books, she said. First editions or something. We’d driven to New Jersey (this was in June 2007, and we were on the airplane in March 2008, so this was less than a year before that) to her aunt and uncle’s house, where she had things in storage. A whole house of books. We were going to take them to Philadelphia and sell them to a used bookstore. Except for whatever I wanted.

Rare antiquarian books she told me. But there’d been a flood in New Jersey. Most of her books had been destroyed. Including Spicer. We salvaged what we could and filled the trunk with what books remained and we ate chicken sandwiches and went to Philadelphia.

The used bookstore had closed though. NO ONE LISTENS TO POETRY.


But, you will say, we loved

And some parts of us loved

And the rest of us will remain

Two persons. Yes,

Poetry ends like a rope.


So when Anna moved out I still had the book. I still have the book.

Anna, I still have the book. Anna I never gave it back.


I should tell you things about him. The Berkeley Renaissance. A “new kind of poetry” with Robert Duncan and Robin Blaser who were also gay. Wikipedia says they “educated younger poets in their circle about their “queer genealogy”, Rimbaud, Lorca, and other gay writers.”

Jack Spicer was not into being published. He lived where I live right now. Berkeley. I moved here to be close to him and Ginsberg, etc. He died, as so many of our great poets do, from complications relating to alcoholism.

There are so many important things about him as a poet that you could read on Wikipedia or in this interview but I guess none of that ever really mattered to me. I was just thinking about the lemon tree, the ocean, my heart, the shadows.


I always remember it differently/wrongly, I remember it as “the heart breaks into small pieces” when it’s actually supposed to be “the heart breaks into small shadows.”

Shadows are better though. Shadows follow you everywhere. They remain, like memory. Like love.

Deathward we ride in the boat
Broken-hearted or broken-bodied
The choice is real. The diamond. I
Ask it.

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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3213 articles for us.


  1. Maybe it’s the wine or the late hour making me more vulenerable, but I hadn’t really felt poetry week until right now.

  2. this is the reason for so many things. this post just solidified an entire thirty-page chapter on mill’s philosophy of higher pleasures.

  3. There’s something about the way this article mixes the purposeful and the personal that makes both sides of my brain dance around then fall out through my vagina.

  4. The “trees in their youth” bit is lovely and very very funny. Thanks for the introduction.

  5. Sorry to take away from your poet and redirect back to Anis for a moment (I feel like you can say redirect back, right?), the lemon tree branching into magic reminds me of Razi’s lemon tree, that needs to take a scarf because wherever it goes might be cold.


  6. “I am a drop or a crash of water. I mean nothing.”

    i have very strong feelings about your entire post, riese, and about the sentiment expressed by the words quoted here.

    first of all, i’m nearly in tears. wonderfully written as always – you always make your subjects dance off the screen into my imagination.

    second, i must respectfully disagree that a drop or a crash of water is nothing. true, sometimes it simply follows the course of the earth…but given time, that same water will reshape the world.

  7. I listen to poetry.

    I listen to poetry in a completely new way after this week.

    I listen to poetry. I listen to you.

  8. as a homolady-graduate-poetry-student i’m really in to poetry week. that said, i think jack spicer would shit himself if he knew he were featured on autostraddle. dude was a great poet, but also a huge misogynist. homosocial poetics doesn’t mean homosexual poetics, after all, and while spicer certainly wasn’t as blatantly antagonistic as someone, like, olson (who certainly had a wider audience), he certainly did not intend to be read, let alone enjoyed, by women identified folks.

    just food for thought.

  9. I have gone back and read this every day since it was posted and I guess that’s the only thing really to say about it, that and I’m looking for Jack Spicer everywhere

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