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. 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.”
Books, Chapbooks, and Pamphlets
A1. AFTER LORCA
San Francisco: White Rabbit Press, November-December 1957
— A. First edition, saddle-stapled illustrated wrappers, 6.5″ x 8.5″, 76 pages, 500 copies, multilith printed.
— B. First edition, saddle-stapled illustrated wrappers, 6.5″ x 8.5″, 76 pages, 26 copies lettered and signed with a drawing by the author, multilith printed.
Jack Spicer’s first book. Cover illustration by Jess Collins. Introduction by Federico Garcia Lorca.
A2. HOMAGE TO CREELEY
Annapolis: privately printed by Harold and Dore Dull, Summer 1959
First edition, side- staled sheets, 8.5″ x 11″, 33 pages, 100 copies, spirit-mimeo printed. Incorporated into A4.
[not in archive]
A3. BILLY THE KID
Stinson Beach: Enkidu Surrogate, Oct 1959
First edition, saddle-stapled illustrated wrappers, 6.5″ x 8.5″, 16 pages, 750 copies, offset printed. Illustrations by Jess Collins.
A second state includes holograph corrections to text on page 8.
A4. THE HEADS IF THE TOWN UP TO THE AETHER
San Francisco: Auerhahn Press, 1962
— A. First edition, perfect-bound illustrated and printed wrappers, 4.75″ x 6.75″, 109 pages, 750 copies, letterpress printed.
— B. First edition, hardcover, signed by the author and artist, with an original drawing, 4.75″ x 7.25″, 109 pages, 50 copies, letterpress printed, bound by the Schuberth Bindery.
Illustrated by Fran Herndon. Printed announcement issued. (Auerhahn 21)
A5. LAMENT FOR THE MAKERS
Oakland: White Rabbit Press, 1962
First edition, hand-sewn illustrated wrappers, 5.5″ x 8″, 16 pages, 100 copies, offset printed. Illustrated by Graham Mackintosh.
A6. THE HOLY GRAIL
San Francisco: White Rabbit Press, 1964
— A. First edition, saddle-stapled sheets glued into illustrated wrappers, 6.25″ x 8.5″, 80 pages, offset printed.
— B. First edition, hardcover, 6.25″ x 8.5″, 80 pages, 13 copies, offset printed.
Illustrated by Graham Mackintosh.
A8. BOOK OF MAGAZINE VERSE
San Francisco: White Rabbit Press, 1966
First edition, perfect-bound printed and illustrated wrappers, 5.5″ x 7.75″, 56 pages, 1500 copies, letterpress printed. Illustrated by Graham Mackintosh.
A9. A BOOK OF MUSIC
San Francisco: White Rabbit, 1969
First edition, saddle-stapled illustrated wrappers, 6.25″ x 9.25″, 20 pages, 1800 copies. Illustrated by Graham Mackintosh.
Printed by Ron and Graham Mackintosh from a typescript made available by Peter Howard. Second issue variant was 150 copies printed Christmas 1969 for “friends of White Rabbit, Oyez, and the author”.
(Johnston A48, A48a)
A11. AFTER LORCA
London: Aloes Books, 1969
First UK edition
A12. THE HOLY GRAIL
Watertown: Augtwofive, 1970
San Francisco: White Rabbit Press, 1970
A14. LAMENT FOR THE MAKER
London: Aloes, 1971
First UK edition, stapled wrappers, 16 pages
A15. THE RED WHEELBARROW
Berkeley: Arif Press, 1971
— A. First edition, hand-sewn printed and illustrated wrappers, 5.5″ x 5.5″, 24 pages, 475 numbered copies, letterpress printed
— B. First edition, hand-sewn printed and illustrated wrappers, 5.5″ x 5.5″, 24 pages, 25 numbered copies with hand-colored frontispiece, signed by the illustrator, letterpress printed.
Illustrated by Wesley Tanner. Printed announcement issued.
A16. SOME THINGS FROM JACK
Verona: Plain Wrapper Press, 1972
First edition, wrappers, 6.5″ x 10.25″, 11 pages, 91 numbered copies, printed letterpress. Introduction by Richard Rummonds. Linocut by Miroslav Zahradka.
A17. BALLAD OF THE DEAD WOODCUTTER
Berkeley: Arif Press, 1973
First edition, single sheet folded twice to make a four-page booklet, 3.5″ x 6″,
New York: Adventures in Poetry, 1974
A19. A LOST POEM
Verona: Plain Wrapper Press, 1974
First edition, hardcover, 9.5″ x 11.5″, 8 pages, 114 numbered copies signed by the artist, letterpress printed. Postscript by Richard-Gabriel Rummonds. Illustrated with two etchings by Ariel Parkinson.
A20. FIFTEEN FALSE PROPOSITIONS ABOUT GOD
South San Francisco: Manroot, 1974
A21. AN ODE AND ARCADIA
Berkeley: Ark Press, 1974
First edition, wrappers, 1000 copies
A22. AFTER LORCA
No Place: Marco Polio, 1974
A23. THE COLLECTED BOOKS OF JACK SPICER
Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1975
A24. BILLY THE KID
n.p.: Oyster Press, March 1975
Second edition, hand-sewn printed wrappers, 6.75″ x 5.75″, 16 pages, 350 copies, letterpress printed
A25. ONE NIGHT STAND AND OTHER POEMS
San Francisco: Grey Fox Press, 1980
A26. COLLECTED POEMS, 1945-46
Berkeley: Oyez/White Rabbit Press, 1981
A27. THE TOWER OF BABEL
Hoboken, N.J: Talisman House, 1994
Charpter one of Jack Spicer’s Detective Novel, edited by Ed Foster and Kevin Killian
A28. TRAIN OF THOUGHT
Gran Canaria: Zasterle Press, 1994
Charpter three of Jack Spicer’s Detective Novel
A29. THE HOLY GRAIL
Portland: Timeworn (Poor Claudia at Revolution Publishing), 2014
Broadsides, Posters, and Postcards
B2. THE DAY FIVE THOUSAND FISH DIED IN THE CHARLES RIVER
Pleasant Valley: Kriya Press, 1967
First edition, broadside, 11″ x 16″, 100 numbered copies, offset printed.
B3. INDIAN SUMMER: MINNEAPOLIS 1950
Brooklyn: Samuel Charters, 1970
First edition, broadside, 8″ x 18″, 100 copies. Published as Portents 16
Albuquerque: Billy Goat Press, 1973
First edition, broadside, 11″ x 17″, 100 numbered copies.
B5. THE OAKS WEEP
Berkeley: Poltroon Press, 1986
B6. JACK SPICER 1925-1965
Berkeley: Arif Press, 1986
First edition, broadside, 16″ x 10″, letterpress printed.
An excerpt from the second of three “lectures” that Spicer gave in Vancouver in 1965.
B7. BERKELEY IN A TIME OF PLAGUE
Berkeley: Arif Press, 1974
A. First edition, broadside, 9.25″ x 11.5″, 100 copies on grey stock
B. First edition, broadside, 9.25″ x 11.5″, 50 copies on white stock
Lament for the Makers
n.p.: White Rabbit Press, 2009
Contributions to Books and Other Publications
C1. THE NEW AMERICAN POETRY, 1945-1960, edited by Donald Allen
New York: Grove Press, 1960
“Imaginary Elegies I-IV”
C3. THE NEW WRITING IN THE U.S.A., edited by Donald Allen and Robert Creeley
Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967
C4. POETICS OF THE NEW AMERICAN POETRY, edited by Donald Allen
New York: Grove Press, 1973
Contributions to Periodicals
D6. 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”
D7. OCCIDENT, edited by Richard Rummonds
Berkeley: Associated Students of the University of California, Spring 1954
“The Inheritance: Palm Sunday”
D8. EVERGREEN REVIEW, Vol. 1, No. 2, edited by Barney Rosset and Donald Allen
New 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”
D18. J, No. 8, edited by Harold Dull
San Francisco, 1961
“A Translation for Jim”
D27. 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…”
[not in archive]
D28. 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…”
D35. WORK, No. 2, edited by John Sinclair
Detroit: Artists Workshop Press, Fall 1965
D37. 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”
D40. FLOATING BEAR, No. 33
“The Bridge Game”, “Lives of the Philosophers: Diogenes”
D41. FLOATING BEAR, No. 34
“The Day Five Thousand Fish Died in the Charles River”
D43. IRON, No. 7
British Columbia, 1969
“Ode for Walt Whitman”
D44. TISH, No.44, Issue D, edited by Karen Tallman
Vancouver, February 1969
“Five Variations on the Earth”
D45. WRITING, No. 2
D46. BOSS, No. 4
New York: Boss Magazine, 1970
D47. CATERPILLAR, No. 12
Sherman Oaks, July 1970
D48. IS, No. 8, edited by Victor Coleman
Toronto: Coach House Press, 1970
D49. 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…”
D50. IO, No. 10 Baseball Issue, edited by Richard Grossinger
Cape Elizabeth, ME: IO Publications, 1971
D51. STOOGE 6, Editor: Geoff Young and Allen Schiller
[untitled] “These big trucks drive…”
D52. SHOCKS, Double Issue 3/4, edited by Stephen Vincent
from “After Lorca”
D53. MANROOT, No. 10, Spicer issue
D54. ADVENTURES IN POETRY, No. 12, edited by Larry Fagin
New York: The Poetry Project, Summer 1975
“Babel”, “Dardenella”, “Lives of the Philosophers: Diogenes”, [untitled] “Lack of oxygen…”, [untitled] “In- / Visible zombies…”, “Spider Song”
Vancouver: Capilano College, 1975
D56. TELEPHONE, No. 10, edited Maureen Owen
New York: Telephone Books Press, 1975
“Five Variations for K.”
D57. NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW, 23
D58. PARNASSUS: POETRY IN REVIEW
D59. IO, No. 24, edited by Kevin Kerran and Richard Grossinger
Ann Arbor: North Atlantic Books, 1977
“Four Poems for the St. Louis Sporting News”
D60. BOUNDARY 2, No. 6, edited by William V. Spanos
SUNY, Binghamton, Fall 1977
“A Plan for a Book on Tarot”
D61. ACTS, No. 6, A Book of Correspondences for Jack Spicer
D62. IRONWOOD, Vol. 14, Issue 2, No. 28, edited by Michael Cuddihy
Tucson: Ironwood Press, Fall 1986
D63. O-BLEK, No. 10, edited by Peter Gizzi and Connell McGrath
Stockbridge: The Garlic Press, Fall 1991
“For Kids”, “Spider Song”
D64. LIFT, Nos. 10/11, edited by Joseph Torra
Somerville: Lift, 1992
D65. EXACT CHANGE YEARBOOK, No. 1
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)
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
Dorbin, Sanford. A CHECKLIST OF THE PUBLISHED WRITING OF JACK SPICER
Sacramento: California Librarian, October 1970
Johnston, Alastair. A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF THE AUERHAHN PRESS & ITS SUCCESSOR DAVE HASELWOOD BOOKS
Berkeley: Poltroon Press, 1976
Johnston, Alastair. A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF THE WHITE RABBIT PRESS
Berkeley: Poltroon Press, 1985
Lepper, Gary M. A BIBLIOGRAPHICAL INTRODUCTION TO SEVENTY-FIVE MODERN AMERICAN AUTHORS
Berkeley: Serendipity Books, 1976