Jack Spicer



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.

Jack Spicer at the opening of the 6 Gallery, Halloween 1954. Photo by Robert Berg.

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. It’s that poised ineptitude and awkwardness of the anti-academic teacher, the scholar of linguistics who can’t say what he knows in formal language, and has chosen to be very naive and look and hear and do. Spicer was not a very happy poet. He was obsessed with possibilities he could only occasionally realize, and too aware of contemporary life to settle for anything less in his work than what he probably could not achieve. He must have been a great spirit.”

A. Books & Broadsides


1. After Lorca
spicer_lorcaSan Francisco: White Rabbit Press, Nov-Dec 1957
First edition, saddle-stapled printed wrappers, 6.5″ x 8.5″, 76 pages, 500 copies (26 lettered and signed). Jack Spicer’s first book. Cover illustration by Jess Collins. Introduction by Federico Garcia Lorca. (Johnston A2)

2. Homage to Creeley
spicer_homageAnnapolis: privately printed by Harold and Dore Dull, Summer 1959
First edition, side- staled sheets, 8.5″ x 11″, 33 pages, 100 copies. Incorporated into A4.
[not in archive]

3. Billy the Kid
spicer_billyStinson Beach: Enkidu Surrogate, Oct 1959
First edition, saddle-stapled illustrated wrappers, 6.5″ x 8.5″, 16 pages, 750 copies. Illustrations by Jess Collins.

4. The Heads of the Town Up to the Aether
spicer_headsSan Francisco: Auerhahn Press, 1962
A. First edition, perfect-bound illustrated wrappers, 4.75″ x 6.75″, 109 pages, 750 copies.
B. First edition, hardcover, signed by the author and artist, with an original drawing, 4.75″ x 7.25″, 109 pages, 50 copies, bound by the Schuberth
Illustrated by Fran Herndon. Printed announcement issued. (Auerhahn 21)

5. Lament for the Makers
spicer_lamentOakland: White Rabbit Press, 1962
First edition, sewn printed wrappers, 5.5″ x 8″, 16 pages, 125 copies. Cover illustration by Graham Mackintosh. (Johnston A11)

6. The Spicer-Ferlinghetti Correspondence
spicer_ferlingSan Francisco: White Rabbit Press, 1964
First edition, single 8.5? x 14? sheet folded once, letterpress.

7. The Holy Grail
spicer_holySan Francisco: White Rabbit Press 1964
First edition, saddle-stapled sheets glued into printed wrappers, 6.25″ x 8.5″, 80 pages.
Designed and printed by Graham Mackintosh. (Johnston A19)

8. Language
spicer_languageSan Francisco: White Rabbit Press, 1965
First edition, perfect-bound printed wrappers, 6.25″ x 10″, 72 pages. (Johnston A30)

9. “A Redwood Forest…”
spicer_redwoodSan Francisco: White Rabbit Press, 1965
First edition, broadside, 8″ x 10.25″, letterpress printed. (Johnston B1)

10. Book of Magazine Verse
spicer_magazineSan Francisco: White Rabbit Press, 1966
First edition, perfect-bound printed wrappers, 5.5″ x 7.75″, 56 pages, 1500 copies. Designed and printed by Graham Mackintosh. (Johnston A33)

11. The Day Five Thousand Fish Died in the Charles River
Pleasant Valley: Kriya Press, 1967
First edition, broadside, 11″ x 16″, 100 copies.

12. A Red Wheelbarrow
St. Aubens, Hove, Sussex: Peter Riley, 1968
limited offprint in 12 copies from Collection One

13. A Book of Music
spicer_musicSan Francisco: White Rabbit, 1969
First edition, saddle-stapled illustrated wrappers, 6.25″ x 9.25″, 20 pages. Illustrated by Graham Mackintosh.

14. The Holy Grail
spicer_holy2Berkeley: Jolly Roger Press, February 1969
First edition thus (pirated edition), stapled printed sheets, 8.5″ x 11″, 18 pages, 500 copies.

15. Indian summer: Minneapolis 1950
Brooklyn: Samuel Charters, 1970
First edition, broadside, 8″ x 18″, 100 copies. Published as Portents

16. The Red Wheelbarrow
Berkeley: Arif Press, 1971

17. Some Things from Jack
Verona: Plain Wrapper Press, 1972

18. Ballad of the Dead Woodcutter
Berkeley: Arif Press, 1973

19. Postscript
Albuquerque: Billy Goat Press, 1973
First edition, broadside, 11″ x 17″, 100 copies.

20. Admonitions
New York: Adventures in Poetry, 1974

21. A Lost Poem
Verona: Plain Wrapper Press, 1974

22. Fifteen False Propositions about God
South San Francisco: Manroot, 1974

23. An Ode and An Arcadia
Berkeley: Ark Press, 1974

24. The Collected Books of Jack Spicer, edited by Robin Blaser
Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1975

25. One Night Stand and other poems, edited by Donald Allen
San Francisco: Grey Fox Press, 1980

26. Collected Poems, 1945-46
Berkeley: Oyez/White Rabbit Press, 1981

27. The Tower of Babel: Jack Spicer’s Detective Novel, edited by Ed Foster and Kevin Killian
Hoboken, N.J: Talisman House, 1994

B. Contributions to Books and Anthologies

1. The New American Poetry, 1945-1960, edited by Donald Allen
New York: Grove Press, 1960
“Imaginary Elegies I-IV”

2. The New Writing in the U.S.A., edited by Donald Allen and Robert Creeley
Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967
“Love Poems”

3. Poetics of the New American Poetry, edited by Donald Allen
New York: Grove Press, 1973

C. Contributions to Periodicals

1. The Occident, edited by Jocelyn Willat
mags_occidentwint46Berkeley, Winter 1946
“To the Semanticists”, “The Chess Game”, “A New Testament”

2. Contour Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 1, edited by Chris Maclaine
mags_contour01Berkeley, April 1947
[untitled] “After the ocean, shattering with equinox…”, “4 A.M.”, “Chinoiserie”

3. Berkeley Miscellany, No. 1, edited by Robert Duncan
mags_miscellany01Berkeley, 1948
“A Night in Four Parts”, “Troy Poem”, “Sonnet”

4. Berkeley Miscellany, No. 2, edited by Robert Duncan
mags_miscellany02Berkeley, 1949
“The Scroll-Work on the Casket”

5. The Occident, edited by Lynne Brown
mags_occidentfall49Berkeley, Fall 1949
“The Poet & Poetry: A Symposium”

6. Language: Journal of the Linguistic Society of America, Vol. 28, No. 3, Part I
Baltimore, July-September 1952
“Correlation Methods of Comparing Ideolects in a Transition Area”

7. Evergreen Review, Vol. 1, No. 2, edited by Barney Rosset and Donald Allen
mags_evergreen0102New York City, 1957
“Berkeley in Time of Plague”, “The Dancing Ape…”, “Troy Poem”, “The Scroll-work on the Casket”, “Hibernation – After Morris Graves”, “Psychoanalysis: An Elegy”, “The Song of the Bird in the Loins”

8. Measure, No. 1, edited by John Wieners
mags_measure01Boston, Summer 1957
“Song for Bird and Myself”

9. Beatitude, No. 3, published by John Kelly
mags_beatitude03San Francisco, 23 May 1959
“Fifteen False Propositions about God”

10. Beatitude, No. 6, published by John Kelly
San Francisco, [June] 1959
“Epithalamium” [co-authored with Bruce Boyd, Ronald Primack, and George Stanley]

11. J, No. 1, edited by Jack Spicer
mags_j01San Francisco, 1959

12. J, No. 2, edited by Jack Spicer
San Francisco, 1959
[untitled] “Down to new beaches where the sea…”, “Epilog of Jim”

13. J, No. 3, edited by Jack Spicer
San Francisco, 1959
“Last Hokku”, [untitled] “The shabby sea where you float in…”

14. J, No. 4, edited by Jack Spicer
mags_j04San Francisco, [October] 1959

15. J, No. 5, edited by Jack Spicer
mags_j05San Francisco, 1959
“Fifth Elegy”

16. Beatitude, No. 17, edited by Bob Kaufman
mags_beatitude17San Francisco: City Light Books, Oct-Nov 1960
“When I hear the word Ferlinghetti / I reach for my g. . . n” [attributed to Jack Slicer]

17. J, No. 8, edited by Jack Spicer
San Francisco, 1961
“A Translation for Jim”

18. Foot, No. 2, edited by Richard Duerden and William Brown
Berkeley, 1962

19. The San Francisco Capitalist Bloodsucker / N
mags_capitalistSan Francisco, Spring 1962
“Three Marxist Essays”

20. Measure, No. 3, edited by John Wieners
mags_measure03Boston, Summer 1962
“Central Park West”

21. Open Space, No. 0, edited by Stan Persky
San Francisco, January 1964
[untitled] “This ocean, humiliating in its disguises…”

22. Open Space, No. 1, edited by Stan Persky
San Francisco, February 1964
“Sporting Life”

23. Open Space, No. 2, edited by Stan Persky
San Francisco, February 1964
“This is Submitted for your Valentine Contest”, [untitled] “I hear a banging on the door of night…”

24. Open Space, No. 3, edited by Stan Persky
mags_openspace03San Francisco, March 1964
“Predictions”, [untitled] “The log in the fire…”, [untitled] “Finally the messages penetrate…”, “Dear Ferlinghetti”

25. Open Space, No. 4, edited by Stan Persky
mags_openspace04tSan Francisco, 1964
[untitled] “Heroes eat soup…”, [untitled] “Smoke signals…”, [untitled] “A redwood forest…”, [untitled] “The whorship of beauty…”

26. Open Space, No. 5, edited by Stan Persky
San Francisco, 1964
[untitled] “Pull down the shade of ruin, rain verse…”, [untitled] “If your mother’s mother had not riven, mother…”, [untitled] “What in sight do I have…”, [untitled] “It comes May and the summers renew themselves…”, [untitled] “Thanatos, the death-plant in the skull…”

27. Open Space, No. 6, edited by Stan Persky
San Francisco, June 1964
[untitled] “1st SF home rainout since. Bounce…”, [untitled] “The country is not very well defined…”, [untitled] “I squint my eyes to cry…”, [untitled] “The metallurgical analysis of the stone that…”

28. Open Space, No. 7, edited by Stan Persky
San Francisco, 1964
“Love Poems”, “Protestant Letter”

29. Open Space, No. 8, edited by Stan Persky
mags_openspace08San Francisco, 1964
“Intermission I”, “Intermission II”, “Intermission III”, “Transformations I”, “Transformation II”, “Transformations III”

30. Open Space, No. 9, edited by Stan Persky
San Francisco, 1964

31. Open Space, No. 10, edited by Stan Persky
San Francisco, 1964

32. Open Space, No. 11, edited by Stan Persky
San Francisco, 1964
“Graphemics 1-5”

33. The Wivenhoe Park Review, No. 1, edited by Thomas Clark and Andrew Crozier
mags_wivenhoe01Essex: University of Essex, 1965
“15 False Propositions about God”

34. Work, No. 2, edited by John Sinclair
Detroit: Artists Workshop Press, Fall 1965
“Graphemic #10”

35. COW, No. 1, edited by Luther T. Cupp
mags_cow01San Francisco: Cow, 1965
“Dear Sister Mary”

36. Whe’re, No.1, edited by Ron Caplan
Detroit: Artists’ Workshop, Summer 1966
“Lament for the Makers”, “The Scroll-work on the Casket”, “Dover Beach”, “Postscript”, “The Birds”, “The Birth of Venus”

37. O’er, No. 2, edited by David Sandberg
mags_oar02San Francisco, December 1966
from After Lorca: “Buster Keaton Rides Again: A Sequel”

38. The Pacific Nation, No. 1, edited by Robin Blaser
mags_pacific01Vancouver, June 1967
“A Poem to the Reader of the Poem”

39. Floating Bear, No. 33
Brooklyn, 1967
“The Bridge Game”, “Lives of the Philosophers: Diogenes”

40. Floating Bear, No. 34
Brooklyn, 1967
“The Day Five Thousand Fish Died in the Charles River”

41. Collection, No. 1, edited by Peter Riley
mags_collection01Sussex, March 1968
“The Red Wheelbarrow”

42. Iron, No. 7
British Columbia, 1969
“Ode for Walt Whitman”

43. Tish
Vancouver, February 1969

44. Admonitions in Writing, No. 2
Vancouver, 1970

45. Boss 4
New York: Boss Magazine, 1970

46. Caterpillar, No. 12
Sherman Oaks, July 1970

47. California Librarian
October 1970
*an excellent bibliography

48. Is, No. 8, edited Victor Coleman
Toronto: Coach House Press, 1970

49. The Harris Review, edited by Harris Schiff
New York: Harris Review, baseball season 1971
[untitled] “The oaks…”, [untitled [With fifteen cents and that I could get a…”

50. IO, Number 10 Baseball Issue, edited by Richard Grossinger 
Cape Elizabeth, ME: IO Publications, 1971

51. Shocks, Double Issue 3/4, edited by Stephen Vincent
March 1974 

from “After Lorca”

52. Manroot, No. 10, Spicer issue
Fall-Winter 1974

53. Adventures in Poetry, No. 12, edited by Larry Fagin
mags_adventuresp12New York: The Poetry Project, Summer 1975
“Babel”, “Dardenella”, “Lives of the Philosophers: Diogenes”, [untitled] “Lack of oxygen…”, [untitled] “In- / Visible zombies…”, “Spider Song”

54. The Capilano Review, No. 8/9, edited by Pierre Coupey 
Vancouver: Capilano College, 1975

55. Telephone, No. 10, edited Maureen Owen 
New York: Telephone Books Press, 1975

56. New York Times Book Review, 23
November 1975

57. Parnassus: Poetry in Review
Spring-Summer 1976

58. Boundary 2, No. 6, Jack Spicer Issue,  edited by William V. Spanos
SUNY, Binghamton, Fall 1977

59. Acts #6 / A Book of Correspondences for Jack Spicer

60. Exact Change Yearbook #1

Further Reading:

1. Jack Spicer by Edward Halsey Foster (Boise, Idaho : Boise State University, c1991)

2. Poet be like God: Jack Spicer and the Berkeley Renaissance by Kevin Killian & Lewis Ellingham (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1998)

3. The House That Jack Built: The Collected Lectures of Jack Spicer, ed. Peter Gizzi (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1998)

Online Resources:

Academy of American Poets
Book Forum
Jacket Magazine
Penn Sound
Poetry Foundation
University of Buffalo 

References Consulted:

Clay, Steven and Rodney Phillips. A SECRET LOCATION ON THE LOWER EAST SIDE: Adventures in Writing, 1960-1980
New York: New York Public Library / Granary Books, 1998

UCSB Special Collections.

Berkeley: Poltroon Press, 1976

Berkeley: Poltroon Press, 1985