International Journal of Literature and Arts

Submit a Manuscript

Publishing with us to make your research visible to the widest possible audience.

Propose a Special Issue

Building a community of authors and readers to discuss the latest research and develop new ideas.

Jack Spicer’s Impossible Quest for the Holy Grail

The American poet Jack Spicer (1925-1965) called, in his second lecture for students in Vancouver, his serial poem The Holy Grail (1962), ‘fairly simple’. Readers will undoubtedly find it not simple at all. ‘Cryptic’ would be a better characteristic. But Spicer does not want to be more explicit. Is he concealing something? The poet did not, however, leave us without some clues, two of them being references to authors, namely Jessie Weston and Hans Jonas. The editors of his lectures did give some, but in my view not sufficient, attention to these references. Through this article I intend to correct this shortcoming. Weston’s medieval studies, especially those pertaining to Arthurian Literature, contain many elements also present in Spicer’s serial poem, thus providing a possibility to examine his poetics more closely. In addition, Hans Jonas’s book The Gnostic Religion (1958), subtitled The message of the alien God and the beginnings of Christianity, helps us gain a deeper understanding of Spicer’s poem; moreover, it explains his reluctance to write plain language. The knowledge Spicer intends to make known should at the same time remain somehow hidden, because, as an ancient tradition demands: only initiates have a right to know, to obtain access to gnosis.

Jack Spicer, Poetics, the Holy Grail, Arthurian Literature, Gnosticism, Initiation

APA Style

Wilhelmus Johannes Lukkenaer. (2021). Jack Spicer’s Impossible Quest for the Holy Grail. International Journal of Literature and Arts, 9(4), 147-154. https://doi.org/10.11648/j.ijla.20210904.11

ACS Style

Wilhelmus Johannes Lukkenaer. Jack Spicer’s Impossible Quest for the Holy Grail. Int. J. Lit. Arts 2021, 9(4), 147-154. doi: 10.11648/j.ijla.20210904.11

AMA Style

Wilhelmus Johannes Lukkenaer. Jack Spicer’s Impossible Quest for the Holy Grail. Int J Lit Arts. 2021;9(4):147-154. doi: 10.11648/j.ijla.20210904.11

Copyright © 2021 Authors retain the copyright of this article.
This article is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

1. Spicer, Jack: My vocabulary did this to me. The collected poetry of Jack Spicer, edited by Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2008).
2. Spicer. Jack: The House that Jack Built. The collected Lectures of Jack Spicer, edited by Peter Gizzi ((Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1998).
3. Weston, Jessie L.: From Ritual tot Romance/ The King Arthur Legends, (1920) (Free on the Internet - See the text in Project Gutenberg or reprinted in for instance ISBN-13: 978-1534821361).
4. Weston, Jessie L.: The Quest of the Holy Grail (1913) (photostatic reprint Barnes & Noble, New York 1964.
5. Jonas, Hans: The Gnostic Religion – The Message of the Alien God & the Beginnings of Christianity (Beacon Press, Boston, MA 1958, reprinted 2001.
6. Ellingham, Lewis and Killian, Kevin: Poet be like God – Jack Spicer and the San Francisco Renaissance (Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 1998).
7. Eliot, T. S.: The Complete Poems and Plays, edited by Valerie Eliot (London: Guild Publishing, 1987).
8. Katz, Daniel: The Poetry of Jack Spicer (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013).
9. Challener, Scott: Addressing “Alien Worlds”: Publics and Persons in the Poetry of Jack Spicer (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, Contemporary Literature, 2017, Vol. 58 (4), pp. 492-525).
10. Spicer, Jack: Citroenen, gedichten en zeewier [‘Lemons, poems and seaweed’], translated, with an afterword by Jan H. Mysjkin (Bleiswijk: Uitgeverij Vleugels, 2018).
11. Blaser, Robin: The Collected Books of Jack Spicer (Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press, 1999).
12. Blaser, Robin: The Fire: Collected Essays (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006).
13. Nelson, Paul E.: Notes on The Practice of Outside: Robin Blaser’s Divine Real (Notes on The Practice of Outside: Robin Blaser’s Divine Real | Paul E Nelson, 2013, collected June 14, 2021).
14. Hlibchuck, Geoffrey: From Typology to Topology: On Jack Spicer (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, Contemporary literature, 2010-07-01, Vol. 51 (2), pp. 310-340).
15. Taylor-Callier, Lucinda: Dictation, the Outside and the Dead: Elements for a Necropolis, Master of Arts by Research (MARes) thesis, University of Kent, 2017.
16. Shoemaker, Robert Eric: After After Lorca: Anamnesis and Magic between Jack Spicer and Federico García Lorca, Print & Online, 2019.
17. Soldofsky, Alan: Those to Whom Interesting Things Happen: William Carlos Williams, Kenneth Rexroth, Lew Welch and Joanne Kyger, and the Genome of San Francisco Renaissance Poetry, William Carlos Williams Review, Volume 35, Number 2, 2018.
18. Spicer, Jack, Blaser, Robin and Granger, John: A Plan for a Book on Tarot, boundary 2, Vol. 6, No. 1, Jack Spicer. (Duke University Press 1977), pp. 24-29.
19. Granger, John: The Idea of the alien in Jack Spicer’s dictated books, Thesis, Department of English, Simon Fraser University 1982.
20. O’Donell-Smith, Daniel: Vox ex machina: towards a digital poetics of the disembodied voice, Doctoral thesis, Birkbeck, University of London, 2017.
21. Lukkenaer, Pim and Schmitz, Jacques: Jack Spicer’s De Oceaan, a lost book, Berlin/Rotterdam 2018.
22. Schmitz, Jacques: Jack Spicer’s Holy Grail, translated, Berlin/Rotterdam 2018.
23. Katz, Daniel: Be Brave To Things. The uncollected Poetry and Plays of Jack Spicer, Wesleyan University Press, to be published December 2021.