Jack Spicer: Checklist

“Although known primarily among a coterie of poets in the San Francisco Bay Area at the time of his death in 1965, Jack Spicer has slowly become a towering figure in American poetry. He was born in Los Angeles in 1925 to midwestern parents and raised in a Calvinist home. While attending college at the University of California-Berkeley, Spicer met fellow poets Robin Blaser and Robert Duncan. The friendship among these three poets would develop into what they referred to as ‘The Berkeley Renaissance,’ which would in turn become the San Francisco Renaissance after Spicer, Blaser and Duncan moved to San Francisco in the 1950s. At Berkeley, Spicer studied linguistics, finishing all but his dissertation for a PhD in Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse. In 1950 he lost his teaching assistantship after refusing to sign a ‘loyalty oath’ to the United States, which the University of California required of all its employees under the Sloan-Levering Act. Spicer taught briefly at the University of Minnesota and worked for a short period of time in the rare books room at the Boston Public Library, but he lived the majority of his life in San Francisco working as a researcher in linguistics. Spicer helped to form the 6 Gallery with five painter friends in 1954. It was at the 6 Gallery during Spicer’s sojourn east that Allen Ginsberg first read Howl. As a native Californian, Spicer tended to view the Beats as usurpers and criticized the poetry and self-promotion of poets like Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, as well as the Beat ethos in general. Always weary of labels and definitions, Spicer tended to associate with small, intimate groups of poets who lived in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. Spicer acted as a mentor and teacher to these young poets by running poetry workshops and providing (sometimes caustic) advice for young poets. In a 1975 New York Times article, Richard Ellman concluded: ‘Jack Spicer’s poems are always poised just on the face side of language, dipping all the way over toward that sudden flip, as if an effort were being made through feeling strongly in simple words to sneak up on the event of a man ruminating about something, or celebrating something, without rhetorical formulae, in his own beautiful inept awkwardness. …”
Verdant Press
Section A: Books, Chapbooks, and Pamphlets
Section B: Broadsides, Posters, and Postcards
Section C: Contributions to Books and Other Publications
Section D: Contributions to Periodicals
Section E: Miscellaneous Prose
PennSound: Jack Spicer

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