Jack Spicer

Jack Spicer (1925–1965) was born John Lester Spicer on January 30, 1925, in Hollywood, California, where his parents managed a small hotel. Migrating north in 1945, he arrived on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley where he formed enduring connections with two other students, the poets Robin Blaser and Robert Duncan, and studied Old Norse, Anglo-Saxon, and German to prepare for a career in linguistics. This putative career was blighted by Spicer’s refusal to sign the “Loyalty Oath,” a provision of the Sloan-Levering Act that required all California state employees (including graduate teaching assistants at Berkeley) to swear loyalty to the United States. He left the university and embarked on a number of low-paying, short-lived jobs in Minnesota, New York, and Boston. In 1957, he returned to San Francisco and began his mature career as a poet with the “dictated” poems of After Lorca (1957) and the eleven books that followed. Although writing and living in the middle of the Beat movement, Spicer and Duncan stood oddly set apart from it, maintaining an approach to poetry and art that wedded aesthetics to intellect. Indeed, Spicer quarreled with almost everyone he knew, and as he reached his thirties, his incipient alcoholism became widely known and feared. In 1965, Spicer decided to leave San Francisco and emigrate to Vancouver, British Columbia. But before he could leave, he collapsed into a prehepatic coma in his building elevator and died several weeks later in the poverty ward of San Francisco General Hospital on August 17. A brilliantly original gay writer, Jack Spicer wrote poetry noted for its lyric beauty, intellectual power, and formal invention and his books include Homage to Creeley, Billy the Kid, The Heads of the Town Up to the Aether, Lament for the Makers, and Language. In 1975, The Collected Books of Jack Spicer was published by Black Sparrow Press. The House That Jack Built: The Collected Lectures of Jack Spicer was published in 1998. (Univ. Press of New England).

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