Some Thoughts on the Poems of John “Jack” Spencer Savage

This rough document is based on Savage Reflections—the Soulful Poetry of Jack Savage which should be read before this. Last updated 5/21/13


This is a very rough draft of some thoughts about Jack’s poetry. I’m very open to feedback from anyone as to which parts belong or should be augmented and which parts of this might better be left out. Of course I’ll give the greatest weight to people close to Jack. I started writing some of this on the poetry page, but got feedback (inner and outer) that it was way too much intrusion of my voice and the poems should be allowed to speak for themselves. That’s why this is on a separate page. I’m also open to removing more words of my narration from the Savage Reflections page and putting them here so as to get out of the way more.  This document begins by repeating some words that are still on the poetry page (and to which I just added some personal context about Jack)  and then  I expand on them:

In the last set of emailed poems, the largest number he ever put in one message (an email dated 8/7/11) Jack whimsically addressed me in a brief message in the body of the email:

Dr. Zhaviago,

Now that I know that the future of my life depends upon the portal on your website I have some requests to please fulfill at your leisure.

Partly the statement was a joke because there was a lovely young woman named Rada who worked at the Espresso Roma coffee shop in Boulder whom Jack had a huge crush on and when she unexpectedly came back to the Roma coffe shop one day after relocating somewhere, I gave her a card to my website and told her about “Savage Reflections,” and that the poet was an admirer. So Jack was reacting to this news and exaggerating the romantic possibility (he had already moved back to Minneapolis at the start of 2011). But the words, though mostly meant in jest, may have a deepr meaning now. Many things Jack said, were like the voice of the soul, and true on more levels than even he realized at the time he spoke or wrote.

This collection of poems is a portal for Jack’s future life on this plane. When any one person reads these poems, and really takes Jack’s words in, his presence lives on. So when you drink from his words, you are also breathing life into his continued presence in this realm and help him to fulfill his life mission.


Jack’s life mission is stated throughout the poems.  In Amidst My Catastrophe he writes:

And I’ll struggle to love with a heart that’s true

And give them all my love mercifully

Mercifully as I’ve given the multitudes of it to you.

The implicit mission of Jack’s life was to bring love to the world, and not just to those who loved him, but also to people who offended him or that he didn’t know. In the same poem:

The beautiful ones,

The mean spirited ones too

I’ll learn to live and love among them

Living sweetly,

Also from the same poem:

I’ll let myself be known to those who love me

As well as those who don’t

I believe that part of what caused Jack to find this life so painful, and why he felt he had to end it, is that he felt he couldn’t fulfill that deepest mission of his soul. He had too much trouble loving himself and that made it hard to love others the way he really wanted to.  Jack was not settled on any religious path. He was searching. According to his friend Eli, near the end of his life Jack went to talk to rabbis and apparently thought about converting to Judaism.

When I look at Jack’s poems, an underlying theme I see is a deep yearning for Higher Consciousness ( sometimes called Christ Consciousness,Buddha Consciousness, etc.). I’m not now, nor have I ever been, a Christian, and this isn’t a term I use very much, but there is no term so apt. This consciousness is called by other names and Wikipedia uses the more generic “Higher Consciousness” on their page about it:

Jack is not looking for an outside savior, so much as he wants to be a savior, someone whose love is available for all who need it. Jack wanted to do this in his life as well as his art. In his dark hours, which were many, Jack felt thwarted in this great aim.

Gandhi once said (approximately) that the problem with Christians is that while they were supposed to love their enemies, most of them had trouble even loving their friends. Jack wanted to bring love to the world, but he had terrible trouble loving himself and often felt hurt and offended by those who loved him the most.

But the Jack that came from his greatest depths, the Jack of his poetic voice, often embodied Higher Consciousness.  There is a deep intention of love in the poems. One of the most grounded ways to see this is to think of love from the perspective of connectedness— that all who have souls have a degree of connectedness. Soulful people reading Jack’s poems will feel a connectedness to him.  Jack expresses with raw and beautiful authenticity things we’ve all felt. Reading Jack’s poems is a chance for your soul to feel its connection to the struggles and ecstasies of the soul who created the poems. If you’re able to feel that connection, and Jack has done his work superlatively well to help make that happen, then you actually alter the meaning of his life. That may sound like an inflated claim, but let’s delve into this and see why it might be true.

The meaning of someone’s life doesn’t end when thier life span ends. When human psyches are still engaged with your life, it still has meaningfulness. Shakespeare’s life continues to have meaning even though he’s been dead for hundreds of years. Meaningfulness in the human context is sourced by human psyches—the agents that prescribe meanings, the prime sources of meaningfulness in our context.

Like all products of psyche, meaningfulness is dynamic. If people stop reading Shakespeare, or come to view his writings as archaic and annoying texts assigned by English teachers, the meaning associated with his life is altered.

Also, the present and future redefine the past. For example, let’s say on a particular Tuesday night, a man goes on a horrible drinking binge.  On Wednesday, when he wakes up from the binge, he drinks more and does a series of self-destructive things that build momentum toward a final downward spiral. Based on what he does Wednesday, the meaning of the Tuesday binge becomes a decisive turning point toward the downward spiral.

Meanwhile,  another man, who also went on a horrible drinking binge Tuesday night, wakes up on Wednesday feeling that he’s  hit bottom and is now ready to summon his will to heal and transform his life.  Tuesday’s horrible drinking binge in this case has the meaning of a hitting-bottom turning point that initiates a recovery process. In each case, it is what happens on Wednesday, and going forward, that determines the meaning of Tuesday night.

Therefore, you are in the position of being able to alter the meaning of Jack’s life. Whether you knew Jack, whether Jack felt offended by you, whether you never met Jack on this plane at all, you have the opportunity to help him fulfill his life mission.  As Dorothy Canfield Fisher said, “There is no large or small against the backdrop of the infinite.” When you read his words, and have, in real time, an experience of soulful connection, Jack’s mission is in a state of being fulfilled. And, obviously, you benefit from the experience as well as Jack. Jack left behind a portal made of  words. The photographs of Jack, in his many moods, are also a portal. Jack often allowed his eyes to be windows into his soul.

When you engage this portal of words and images, meaningfulness and soulful connection may blossom into a mutual fulfillment.


In the next, even rougher section, I make a series of statements about the Jack revealed by the poems, and then follow each statement with italicized excerpts from his poems that I feel support or illustrate the statements. So as not to break the flow, I don’t identify the poems. I use ellipses or extra spaces to indicate breaks in the excerpting. The excerpts in a given section may be be from a number of different poems. Essentially what I’m trying to show with these statements and excerpts is that Jack had a highly defined map of his soul’s trajectory or, to use one of his own phrases, “a contract with divinity.” Throughout the poems, there are many explicit and implicit references to suicide. Suicide, however, is not considered by Jack as a path to oblivion, but as a means of metamorphosis, a way to regain the Higher Consciousness that Jack recognizes as his birthright so that he can become a vessel of love (and escape the agony of life on this plane). I don’t think Jack is recommending his divine contract to others. All I am claiming is that Jack had such a map for himself, and he defines it and expresses it poignantly throughout the poems.  In his poem The Path of the Numinous he wrote:

Perched like a sage

Above the slumbering metropolis.

Whose precious moonbeams pierce the veil.

Collect those silver slivers

Read them like an archaic map

For this is your contract with divinity.


Jack’s poetic voice is the voice of the soul struggling toward wholeness out of darkness. He is seeing a wholeness that transcends all the dualities of love and opposition, the mundane and the sacred, the self and the other:

I am working at giving myself up to the stream of life…

I am striving to relax into a union with the world which always filters through me…

Equipped with this knowledge and thirst, I embrace the totality of this 

It is whole and complete.


Jack seeks release from his small constricting self as he seeks to become more fully the radiant, loving part of himself:

I am working at unclenching my feeble fist and feeling the light outline my hand,

I am learning to allow the melody to animate my body and shine like a city,

For it is time I became a vessel of love.


Jack is aware that there are dark forces that constrain his heart and don’t allow him to become the vessel of love he wants to be:

I am learning to loose the barbed rigging which has cinched my heart and constrained her wild vitality


Jack feels a spiritual force moving through him:

I possess mysterious undercurrents,

I can feel their sweet, ecstatic pull,

I am learning to listen to their currents

And to not resist those sweet, lively currents

My movements in perfect harmony

A symphony of unique energy.


In states of unity consciousness that Jack achieves with his poems, he experiences a pantheistic merging with the world:

All my rivers, lakes and streams rejoice on their eternal odyssey to the sky and sea,

Constantly moving, constantly belonging…

The dark and the bitter, the root and the leaf, the luminous and the divine, the tense and troubled, the relaxed and assured.

The bitter and the gun carrying, the tender and romantic, the childlike and be wondered, the aged and anguished, the muzzled and weak, the strong and courageous, the resilient

All of them are contained within me

I can feel them animate and enliven my body, I can feel them nourish my soul

In spite of this bloody fucking mess

I stand like a springtime garden

Exploding with vitality

Exploding with colour

Tomatoes, azaleas, roses, vines, dirt, insects, trees, birds, water

All bursting forth from me uninhibitedly


 Sometimes when Jack refers to parasites he is speaking in metaphors and similes about the corrosive effects of his doubts and negative thoughts that sap his vitality, as when he refers to “Little parasitic maggots of regret.”

In many other cases, Jack is expressing a feeling that, in addition to his inner conflict, egging it on and adding to his grief, are outside entities, agencies or forces attacking him inwardly. In an era where inner demons have been reduced to serotonin deficiency, and when people are reduced to psychiatric labels, what’s been called the industrialized form of story telling, this perspective may seem deluded. If so, it is a delusion reported, as far as I can tell, by every culture and period except fundamentalist materialism. Jack and I talked about it many times. So when Jack talks about being attacked by parasites and insects and so forth, I think he is giving testimony to a feeling of actually being attacked by something other than the contents of his own psyche. We may agree or disagree,  but this was Jack’s felt experience. We talked many times about what I refer to (and write about) as the “mind parasites.” Again, anyone is free to disagree with the idea, but I felt  I should point this out because, based on the conversations I’ve had with Jack on this subject, I think he meant to express his experience that part of his inner chaos was generated by outside forces. I have many writings on this subject, but here’s the introductory essay:

I don’t really want to intrude my eccentric studies into an essay about Jack’s poetry, but authenticity demands this (I think). It explains something meant in the poems, and also reflects Jack’s experience of external agencies of  oppression. People might otherwise read his words and think he was always speaking metaphorically about inner conflict and negative thoughts, but I happened to be in a position to know that Jack felt he was experiencing more than that. If anyone wants to give feedback that this part should be left out, however, I’m open to it.

The mad dogs are after me again

With their poison fangs and their mongrel claws

With their hollowed out, fiendish ghost faces,

The mad dogs are after me again

 Ugly and slobbering.

 And hells screams and agonies shrieks,

 Their barking cries.

 They’re snarling through the alleyways

 Breaking down my door,

 Growling and snapping

 Biting at my bones.

But parasites do not discriminate.

And they tunnelled into my brain

As they would any orphaned sailor or deranged addict,

Crowding and festering its illuminated passageways,

They only know one taste

As their pitiless gaze unfurls ravenous lust

 Hundreds of marble eyes bruise my body with dark kisses

To feel their insect legs

Scuttle down my throat, intoxicate my veins

 To anoint me in the oil of their dark, dazzling ceremony,

To bathe me in their song of despair.

menacing little agents

Borne to defile the glorious architecture of my ivory kingdom

With fine tuned dentist’s instruments.

All my nourishment is breathing with maggots

My lungs are stifled

Centipedes seep from my ceiling in a flood

The steel wind screeches like a starving wraith

As the insects enter my body

No longer possessed by those menacing puppeteers

(How long they have mastered me)


Jack is always trying to move toward wholeness, toward owning the opposites within, integrating his shadow, and feeling the completeness he finds when he is coming from his poetic voice:

Though I live in squalor

Though I live in Filth

(The muck has nearly drowned me,

The murk has made me ill,)

I will never stop my clumsy efforts to court you

And I am seeking you still.

I am learning to possess, really possess everything I own,

Learning to own my world, without forsaking any of it

I am coming to understand that I carry the world with me wherever I go,

Jack, stop your ruminations on the night

Stop this endless worry over your sins

These are your sins

This is your soul

That is enough.

Cast aside those vain contrivances

Cease your demands and doubts and you will live in the most glorious kingdom today

Your soul will blossom more bountifully than any ever has


Jack experiences himself as an old soul:

Despite these rags it is because of my riches I walk the road I walk

An old and timeless soul

Wrinkled rucksack on my back


Jack seeks the release of his heart and soul constricted by his smaller self and his tribulations in the world:

I am learning to loose the barbed rigging which has cinched my heart and constrained her wild vitality

So I can understand my real energy, unbounded, and allow it to abound.

And it is my duty to disentangle this wild white horse, my heart


Jack seeks a full release from the constrictions of his waking personality  into a merger with the infinite:

Until the sweet day I’ll dissolve again into your unsurpassable glory

Oh universal how I long to return to you.


Jack seeks to love the world despite the darkness that oppresses him:

And I believe in the sanctity of existence

Though I am constantly beleaguered.

I want to be indiscriminate with my nourishing love

Though I am constantly beleaguered.


James Hillman says the natural direction of the soul is downward. Part of Jack wishes to descend into darkness to ultimately find transformation in its depths:

I will ride each morning at seven into bleak suburban strip mall heaven, and mega mall tax offices will scratch their fingernails across the chalkboard of my mind

I will laugh naked, underground, forgotten, going nowhere

I will become dismissive with reality

I will sprawl myself out on the cold hard floors of destitution, kiss tragedies cold wet feet, worship and rest in the tomb of failure

I will live like a ghost

Invisible angels will sing to me

Demons and devils will feed me well

I will watch hatred rip out my eyes offering me searing blindness

I will grant malice, that malevolent magician reign over my stormy mind

I will desecrate ancient monuments to love and cower in fear before the murderous mongrel inside me

I will watch my sanity recede on the mud caked horizon line

I will learn to fault myself in astonishing ways

I will earn torture

I will grow as careless as a fiend

I will sit sick in terrible illness, paranoid and frantic muttering something to myself about peace and beauty then vomit into a plastic garbage

I will trickle through the clasp of terror, leaving my residue on its sticky lecherous fingers

I will laugh with raving blood thirsty idiots listening to bad music then go home solemn faced and listen to good music

I will masturbate prolifically and carry with shame the anvil of my waste

I will let my brain go unshaved so long foul noxious fumes will begin to seep from my eyes

I will gulp kerosene in defense of their eyes and exhale a graveyard, wondering how long I will live

I will suck from the black spires of death

I will dance and disappear into a carnival of poison and come back slowly, coughing and depressed, with all of my internal organs bruised


I will understand what a goddamn fool I am and despise myself for this self-imposed damnation

Inside all the darkness and inner chaos, there is a metamorphosis waiting to happen:

After all these days of horrible sickness

After all this terrible poison I have swallowed and succumbed to

After all this praying and all this pain

After all these celebrations

How can it be that I am bursting still? 

But I am also beaming all the time with ineffable light, and I am filled with love and with hope too

And I am brimming with an authentic  and strong desire to do good as well.

And I know now through all the dregs I have trudged

Through the toxic mire

Through my endless miseries

Through my days of bitter impotence

Through the cancer of my greed

Through my death wishes and poison swallowing

There was, all along, a sweet, innocent hatchling bird inside of me

I’ll be my own priest and my own doctor,

My own King.

No one else shall be my King.

The King’s authority has been restored.


Jack feels the potential in himself to be transformed into a Bodhisatttva, a vessel of love, a person who embodies Higher Consciousness:

Come to me. 

Bind your loneliness to my own.

Offer to me your sorrows, and I will turn them into joys and riches.

Give to me your sins, I will take them.

Forget all that you have done wrong and we will dine together tonight.

There is a fine banquet hall, with a place at the table for you.

You in your solitude, you who are suffering

Don’t feel so bad.

I am here with you.

You are guided by my love.

I see you in the aimless crowds filled with sadness

I see you on those miserable anonymous streets

Scavenging for the remnants of the of glory you once knew,

Finding your way.

I tell you again

Come to me, I am with you already.


Jack expects to find his great awakening through the portal of death:

When he awoke

He was dead


 Please feel free to leave comments about what you get from Jack’s poems or any feedback (critical very welcome) about the above.

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