John Lester Spicer was born in Los Angeles, where he later graduated from Fairfax High School in 1942, and attended the University of Redlands from 1943 to 1945.
He spent the years 1945 to 1955 at the University of California, Berkeley, where he began writing, doing work as a research-linguist, and publishing some poetry (though he disdained publishing).
In 1955, Spicer moved to New York and then to Boston, where he worked for a time in the Rare Book Room of Boston Public Library. Blaser was also in Boston at this time, and the pair made contact with a number of local poets, including John Wieners, Stephen Jonas, and Joe Dunn.
Spicer returned to San Francisco in 1956 and started working on After Lorca.
In 1957, Spicer ran a workshop called Poetry as Magic at San Francisco State College, which was attended by Duncan, Helen Adam, James Broughton, Joe Dunn, Jack Gilbert, and George Stanley. He also participated in, and sometimes hosted, Blabbermouth Night at a literary bar called The Place. This was a kind of contest of improvised poetry and encouraged Spicer's view of poetry as being dictated to the poet.
From 1945 through 1955, Spicer searched out fellow poets, but it was through his alliance with Robert Duncan and Robin Blaser that Spicer forged a new kind of poetry, and together they referred to their common work as the Berkeley Renaissance. The 3, who were all gay, also educated younger poets in their circle about their "queer genealogy", Rimbaud, Lorca, and other gay writers. Spicer's poetry of this period is collected in One Night Stand, and other poems (1980). His Imaginary Elegies, later collected in Donald Alle's anthology The New American Poetry, 1945-1960, were written around this time.
After Lorca (1957) represented a major change in direction for Spicer. He came to the conclusion that stand-alone poems (which Spicer referred to as his "one-night stands") were unsatisfactory and that henceforth he would compose serial poems. In fact, he wrote to Blaser that "all my stuff from the past (except the Elegies and Troilus) looks foul to me." Also, in writing After Lorca, he began to practice what he called "poetry as dictation". His interest in the work of Federico García Lorca, especially as it involved the canto jondo ideal, also brought him near the poetics of the deep image group. The Troilus referred to was Spicer's then unpublished play of that name. The play finally appeared in print in 2004, edited by Aaron Kunin, in issue 3 of No - A Journal of the Arts.
Spicer's view of the role of language in the process of writing poetry was probably the result of his knowledge of modern pre-Chomskyan linguistics and his experience as a research-linguist at Berkeley. In the legendary Vancouver lectures he elucidated his ideas on "transmissions" (dictations) from the outside, using the comparison of the poet as crystal-set or radio receiving transmissions from outer space, or Martian transmissions. Although seemingly far-fetched, his view of language as "furniture", through which the transmissions negotiate their way, is grounded in the structuralist linguistics of Zellig Harris and Charles Hockett. (In fact, the poems of his final book, Language, refer to linguistic concepts such as morphemes and graphemes). As such, Spicer is acknowledged as a precursor and early inspiration for the Language poets. However, many working poets today list Spicer in their succession of precedent figures.
Since the posthumous publication of The Collected Books of Jack Spicer in 1975, his popularity and influence has steadily risen, affecting poetry throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe. In 1994, The Tower of Babel: Jack Spicer's detective novel was published. Adding to the Jack Spicer revival was the publication in 1998 of 2 volumes: The House That Jack Built: The Collected Lectures of Jack Spicer, edited by Peter Gizzi; and a biography: Jack Spicer and the San Francisco Renaissance, by Lewis Ellingham and Kevin Killian (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1998).
A collected works entitled My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The collected poetry of Jack Spicer (Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian, editors) was published by Wesleyan University Press in November 2008, and won the American Book Award in 2009.
In popular culture Edit
- Homage to Creeley. 1950's
- The Ballad of the Dead Woodcutter. 1950's
- Billy the Kid (poem). Stinson Beach, CA: Enkidu Surrogate, 1959.
- Lament for the Makers. San Francisco: White Rabbit Press, 1962.
- The Heads of the Town up to the Aether (with lithographs by Fran Herndon}. San Francisco, CA: Auerhahn Society, 1962.
- The Holy Grail. San Francisco: White Rabbit Press, 1964.
- Language (poems). San Francisco: White Rabbit Press, 1965.
- Book of Magazine Verse (edited by Stan Persky). San Francisco: White Rabbit Press, 1966.
- The Day Five Thousand Fish Died in the Charles River (limited edition). Pleasant Valley, NY: Kriya Press, 1967.
- The Red Wheelbarrow (limited edition). Hove, Sussex, UK: Peter Riley, circa 1968; Berkeley, CA: Arif, 1971.
- A Book of Music. San Francisco: White Rabbit Press, 1969.
- Some Things From Jack (poems; limited edition). Verona, Italy: Plain Wrapper Press, 1972.
- An Ode & Arcadia (with Robert Duncan). Small Press Distribution, 1974.
- Admonitions. New York: Adventures in Poetry, circa 1974.
- 15 False Propositions About God. San Francisco, CA: ManRoot Books, 1974.
- One Night Stand, and other poems. 1980.
- The Tower of Babel. 1994.
- Golem. New York: Granary Books, 1999.
- My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The collected poetry (edited by Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian). Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2008.
- The House That Jack Built: The collected lectures. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1998.
- The Collected Books of Jack Spicer (edited and with a commentary by Robin Blaser). Santa Rosa, CA: Black Sparrow, 1975.
- Federico Garcia Lorca, After Lorca (translations with additional material; limited edition). San Francisco: White Rabbit Press, 1957; Toronto: Coach House, 1974.
- Jack Spicer’s Beowulf: Part 1 (edited by David Hadbawnik & Sean Reynolds, introduction by David Hadbawnik). Lost and Found: The CUNY Poetics Documents Initiative, New York, 2011.
- Jack Spicer’s Beowulf: Part II (edited by David Hadbawnik & Sean Reynolds, afterword by Sean Reynolds). Lost and Found: The CUNY Poetics Documents Initiative, New York, 2011.
- The Spicer / Ferlinghetti Correspondence. Dear Jack (with Lawrence Ferlinghetti). San Francisco: White Rabbit Press, c. 1964.
- A Book Of Correspondences For Jack Spicer (edited By David Levi Strauss & Benjamin Hollander). San Francisco: A Journal of Acts (#6), 1987; (Note: this is a collection of essays, poetry, and documents celebrating Spicer)
- Diaman, N. A.. Following My Heart: A Memoir. San Francisco : Persona Press, May 2007
- _____. The City: A Novel. San Francisco : Persona Press, August 2007
- _____. Sitting With Jack At The Poets Table. Los Angeles: The Advocate, 1984
- _____. Second Crossing: A Novel. San Francisco : Persona Press, 1982
- Ellingham and Killian, Kevin. Poet, Be Like God: Jack Spicer and the San Francisco Renaissance. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1998
- Foster, Edward Halsey. Jack Spicer. Boise, Idaho : Boise State University, 1991
- Tallman, Warren. In the Midst. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1992
- ↑ Fredman, Stephen (2005). A Concise Companion To Twentieth-century American Poetry. Blackwell Publishing. p. 110. ISBN 1405120037
- ↑ The Troilus referred to was Spicer's then unpublished play of that name. The play finally appeared in print in 2004, edited by Aaron Kunin, in issue 3 of No - A Journal of the Arts.
- ↑ "Wesleyan University Press". Wesleyan.edu. 2010-05-17. http://www.wesleyan.edu/wespress/. Retrieved 2010-05-30.
- ↑ Dwight Garner, Sometimes Love Lives Alongside Loneliness," New York Times, December 23, 2008. Web, Dec. 6, 2012.
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 Jack Spicer, Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation. Web, Dec. 6, 2012.
- ↑ Jack Spicer 1925-1965, Poetry Foundation. Web, Dec. 6, 2012.
- Profile of Jack Spicer profile and 4 poems at the Academy of American Poets
- Jack Spicer 1925-1965 at the Poetry Foundation
- Jack Spicer @ EPC Electronic Poetry Project
- Audio / video
- Brief biography
- Jack Spicer at the Open Directory Project
- A Spicer Chronology
- Vocabulary Lesson by Katherine Montgomery, an essay on Jack Spicer. Winner of 2006 Hopwood Award for creative nonfiction
- "Sometimes Love Lives Alongside Loneliness" a review of the book My Vocabulary Did This to Me at New York Times Book Review
- Review at Booksmark Magazine of My Vocabulary Did This to Me with link to Los Angeles Times review
- A review of Spicer's poetry by Ben Lerner
- Listening to Poetry, Jack Spicer's My Vocabulary Did This To Me a review/essay by Zack Finch
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