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J A C K E T   #  S E V E N    |   C O N T E N T S    |    H O M E P A G E 

Jack Spicer

Kevin Killian and
Lewis Ellingham
 excerpt from 
Poet Be Like God 

This piece is 5,000 words or about fifteen pages long.
The notes are given at the end.


SPICER'S FALLOW PERIOD was over. Donald Allen arrived to spend the summer of 1957 in San Francisco. He remembered that Jack had a new Lorca poem to show him every day at Vesuvio's or The Place. Spicer was drinking only beer, not the ruinous brandy that came later. Beer was enough to celebrate each new poem.(See note 1 - the notes are given at the end). Robert Duncan, in a letter to Robin Blaser dated December 19, 1957, described what happened that summer:

Jack's Lorca and the whole boon of his fertility since this summer has been a major fundament. Boston seems a good sprouting if not a good sporting ground - After Lorca gives perspective and body to the previous work; when Spicer is measured on Spicer what lookd grotesque before takes on lineaments of nature. It's that the [Imaginary] Elegies are now protean, for they are propositions of the beauties and conservations of the Lorca poems. From the Letter to you in his new Admonitions I copied the following:
"Let your way of writing of the moment go along its own paths, explore and retreat but never be fully realized (confined) within the boundaries of one poem. . . . There is really no single poem. . . .  "They cannot live alone any more than we can. "A poem is never by itself alone." (See note 2)
If, as Jack writes, the doctrine was mine, it has taken this return of the doctrine thru Jack (thru the ease of After Lorca, and the proportion given now to the earlier work) for me to receive it. I had, when he read thru the Letter, that donné: the epiphanic "I have been waiting to be shown this." That releases something once knotted, at which I have been working. (See note 3)

The energies aroused in the Magic Workshop now carried over into regular poetry meetings every Sunday afternoon. The clientele had expanded, but the leaders in these meetings remained Spicer and Duncan, magisterial figures though still in their thirties, since all the regular and most of the other members of the Sunday group were in their early twenties. Meetings were held at the apartment of John Wieners and in the newly organized East-West House on California Street, as well as a longer series at the Montgomery Street apartments of George Stanley and Ebbe Borregaard, but the habitués remembered most vividly the ones held during the first year at the Jackson Street apartment of Joe and Carolyn Dunn. James Broughton remembered the circle of poets gathered on Sundays as "those who did not belong to the noisier bandwagon launched by Ginsberg and his crew: Corso, Whalen, Kerouac, Snyder, Kyger, et al. In other words a more disciplined and more lyrically conscious group than the political publicity-busy invaders from the east coast . . . . Of course there were mergings and overlaps and we all knew one another." In point of fact Gary Snyder and Joanne Kyger both came to the Sunday meetings, Kyger often enough to become a regular. "Joe asked me if I would come to these meetings, and I went, along with Jerome Mallman and Nemi Frost." (Mallman was a painter and bohemian, a close friend of both Joanne's and Nemi's; he is the "Jerry" of Spicer's Admonitions.) There Joe introduced her to John Wieners, who had moved to San Francisco in October 1957, and Joanne struck up an intense friendship with him.


      From their homes in North Beach the poets darted through the Broadway tunnel to get to the Dunns' apartment - built under Russian Hill after World War II, the tunnel ties North Beach to Polk Gulch. The Dunns' house was built close to the sidewalk - "it was just one step up," recalled Ebbe Borregaard, "and then - darkness." The painter Tom Field remembered a "dumpy" apartment and the Dunns as "pre-punk, proto-punk." Carolyn Dunn's green makeup made a particularly strong impression.(See note 6) In tiny rooms the group drank red wine from three jelly jars: Nemi and Joanne drank from a saucepan. Inside the refrigerator, in the ice chamber, a soggy picture of Rimbaud stood propped up against the ice. A party atmosphere prevailed, tempered with workshop business.
One afternoon, Wieners introduced Kyger to two friends of his from Black Mountain, Tom Field and Michael Rumaker, who demonstrated the correct way to make martinis of Rhine wine and gin. That was "a famous evening," Kyger recalled. After the meeting, more martinis, then dinner, then through the dark tunnel to North Beach again, and then later, the arrest of George Stanley, Jerome Mallman, and Ebbe Borregaard. Said Michael Rumaker of this event:

On a late Saturday night, Ebbe Borregaard, Joanne Kyger, myself and a couple of others, on our way to Dante's Pool Hall after Vesuvio's closed. Waiting at Broadway and Columbus for the light to change and when it did, starting across when Ebbe, a little ahead of us, gave the finger sign to two guys in a car that almost ran over him. The car pulled over, the two guys got out, turned out to be plainclothesmen in an unmarked car and arrested Ebbe for "lewd behavior," and the person beside him [Stanley]. Joanne and I went down to the Hall of justice to try to get Ebbe out but we couldn't and he spent the night in jail.(See note 7)

Ida Hodes was called to bail out the young men who, walking into a reading the next day, were greeted as heroes.
      Spicer might start the meetings with the heuristic exercises developed in his Magic Workshop of the spring, or during the nights at 2029 Hearst when he first learned magic from Duncan. At the beginning of one meeting he consulted a French-English dictionary, like a pilgrim at an oracle, to determine, "What shall the meeting center on?" The Larousse dictionary opened, as if by spirits, to metallurgy. Then Duncan read the poem ("The Question") he'd brought to the workshop, and all were amazed and reconfirmed:

Does the old alchemist
speak in metaphor
of a spiritual splendor?
or does he remember
how that metal is malleable?
. . . . 
will the good metal return
to use? gold leaf to the house roof?
our treasure above ground,
sure glow for the eye to see? (See note 8)

One of the participants was Harold Dull, a poet who had studied under Theodore Roethke and Stanley Kunitz at the University of Washington in Seattle.(See note 9) He arrived in San Francisco on Labor Day 1957 with Dora Geissler, who asked her new San Francisco friends to call her Dora Dull, although she and Harold never married. "It was unheard of to find a landlord who would rent an apartment to 2 persons of different genders and different names. When my mother threatened to visit, I went to the point of purchasing a gold band from a pawnshop, and that was the end of Dora Geissler." (See note 10) Dora remembered Spicer's extreme physical hesitancy and clumsiness - physical traits that almost certainly accentuated his conception of himself as an outsider: the "Dancing Ape," as he wrote of himself in an early poem.

A 99-cent jug of red wine was passed around as the week's poetry output was read, reviewed, praised and put down. Spicer characteristically preambled that we were too dense to understand his poem so he would accommodate us by reading it three times and allowed no comment until the third reading was completed. Reading the poem always posed a problem because Spicer would find the light too dim to make out the words on the page, although there may well have been sunlight over his shoulder. Jack's hands often balled into fists and when performing maneuvers like lighting a match or lifting a glass he really had to struggle to make his hands accomplish the task. So hanging on to the poem, smoking a cigarette and lighting a match to hold to the paper for light to read by, resulted in astonishing spasms of physical exertion which certainly for me heightened the impact of the poem.(See note 11)

September was also the month of the 11th Annual Arts Festival in North Beach. During this weeklong festival, the Poetry Center sponsored readings at Fugazi Hall, and the poets in Spicer's circle were prominently featured in the programming. Helen Adam led off the featured readers, with her new ballad "Queen o' Crow Castle," with Eve Triem and Jack Gilbert sharing the bill. (Gilbert also wrote, with Gerd Stern, a puppet show about The Place, which Spicer attended and found "very funny . . .. There was a marvelous puppet of Rexroth. If all this sounds a bit inbred - it was.") On Friday night James Broughton read from his new Grove Press book, True and False Unicorn. Saturday was a marathon of poets, with daytime readings "by young poets," including Richard Brautigan, Ron Loewinsohn, and Ebbe Borregaard, and at night a "reading from recent work and poems written for the 'Poetry as Magic' Workshop, conducted by Jack Spicer." Poetry was in the air - Ida Hodes's program notes for the festival reminded all that the "San Francisco Scene" had become a locus of nationwide attention. "These same poets," Spicer and Duncan among them, "are featured in a LP record issued by Grove Press." The energy was tremendous, though Spicer "annoyed everybody" by refusing to go to any of the poetry readings at the "ghastly" Arts Festival. He was pleased the weather was so bad; delighted at the thunderstorm. Soon to come was the extradiagetical event that had the whole town talking, the obscenity trial of Ginsberg's Howl.


The Sunday afternoon meetings focused on a number of poetic concerns and forms. Harold Dull's memories, after Spicer's death, grew lyrical:

I would so like to get it down just as it was then, everyone, just as they were, Jack, crosslegged on the floor, Duncan in the plush chair, George Stanley, Joanne Kyger, Ebbe Borregaard, I, to see it just as it was, today, in the clear light of the day. And that room we met in, Joe Dunn's, is still somewhere inside me. I can trace my way back - out of the Broadway tunnel, left, and down . . .and I see that yellowish brown house (or is it grey, blue-grey?), the ground floor window, the brown shade, but when I walk in it's so dark. I know the plush chair Duncan sits in, and the dark wine-stained rug Jack leans forward on, and all the other furniture from the Salvation Army, and all the others, are there, but I can't see anything. And I remember how bugged I used to get when I walked in and saw the shade pulled down in the middle of the day - Can't we have some natural light? I'd say and walk over and snap it up. Or did I? It was always down if I remember right. Was I outvoted? If you pull up that shade we won't have privacy. Anybody walking by can look. Or did somebody just get up and pull it down on me? This is the kind of light we like!! I don't remember. But it is down. But I know they are all there . . .Duncan in that plush easy chair writing the latest installment to the Pindar Poem . . .and Jack bunched over an admonition to a young angel. . .. But I can't see anything in that what's even more hateful to me now minus twelve watts (years) dark bulb and I walk over to snap up the shade. But in the protest that follows, George's eyeglasses are tiny clear lakes . . .and Ebbe's great bushy eyebrows . . .treetops . . .and Joanne's fandango cape or shawl she twirls in a huff about her shoulders - a wisp of cloud . . .and I stop, the top of that next hill I thought I'd be able to see everything from would probably be dark by the time I got to it anyway, and I turn back - out the Broadway tunnel, left, and down. . . . .(See note 14)

Joe and Carolyn once left town for a weekend. When the Group's members showed up for the meeting, they found the apartment deserted and locked. No problem. "They had a Sunday meeting anyway," Dunn recalled. "George Stanley or somebody stood on somebody's shoulders and opened up a window and went in and opened the door and had the meeting and then locked the door, closed the window and left." Rather cavalier, but it didn't bother Joe: he thought it kind of fun. From these meetings "all kinds of sparks emerged." Spicer brought in the work of poets he admired and read them aloud. Numbers varied - sometimes only four or five people showed up; sometimes they came "in droves."

      Robert Duncan, 1954 

Robert Duncan, early 1950s
Photo copyright © Robert Berg

In the fall of 1957, Joanne remembered, George Stanley approached her in The Place, and said, "Some people are treating these meetings just like a party." The tone of his voice left no doubt that "some people" included herself. She hadn't been reading her own work at the meetings, that was true. Too shy; too hesitant. It was time to shape up. She assembled her work, got on the cable car over the hill, realized she had forgotten her poems, went back home, found the poems, got on the cable car again, and finally read them at the Dunns'. "Robert Duncan loved them, and I remember Jack Spicer looking very serious-faced and saying, 'Now what do you intend to do?' 'His commitment to poetry was absolute, right down to the marrow of your bone. This was no light-hearted affair at all. And then after I wrote 'The Maze' poem, which was the first one in The Tapestry and the Web." Completed late in 1964, The Tapestry and the Web became Kyger's first book. (See note 15)
      If Spicer was serious with Kyger, Duncan was coy." I remember Robert Duncan saying, 'There are a few things I could teach you about the line,' and I said, 'Well, tell me.' 'Oh, I'll tell you next meeting.' So, when everything was over, we were standing in the kitchen, and I said, 'Now tell me.' 'Well, ah . . .' and he really didn't tell me anything at all, as a matter of fact." Joanne laughed, a deep, rich chortle of warmth. "But there was something he did tell me which then made me more interested in the fact that there was something going on which I wasn't quite handling, or could handle in some way - some breath-beat implicit in Creeley's tone, the hanging-article at the end of the breath-line, in the ear, giving this kind of staccato rhythm." (See note 16)
      When the twenty-one-year-old David Meltzer began attending the meetings at the Dunns' apartment, he became intoxicated by the dynamic between Spicer, who wanted to "de-rhetorize" poetry, and Duncan, who proposed a rhetorical, lyrical verse. At one session Duncan expounded the rhetoric in Vachel Lindsay's poem about William Jennings Bryan, clarifying the function of rhetoric in the poem; Spicer opposed Duncan's formulations with a poetry that was "much more reductive." Meltzer was one of the people who changed the tenor of the meetings by being there, George Stanley felt. He liked to read long poems. Once during a reading Meltzer announced, "Now I will soon be at an end." James Broughton was present and audibly sighed. David finished the remark, saying, ". . .  of Part I." Broughton sighed again.(See note 17)
      Another newcomer to the circle was Ron Loewinsohn, then a twenty-one-year-old writer, a student at SF State, studying Chaucer. Like George, he was a native of San Francisco. "The meetings were incredibly useful. They got people writing and kept them writing. They kept the level of excitement and activity up." If the criticism itself was banal, the emotional dynamics made the meetings well worth attending. Loewinsohn admired and envied Spicer's integrity.

Jack would have nothing to do with Ferlinghetti; would not allow his books to be sold in the store [City Lights]; did not take Kerouac or Ginsberg seriously; dealt with all of the Beat Generation people with a kind of contempt, a regal "We are not amused . . . . " At first both Richard Brautigan and I were suspicious of this clique of poets. Once we got to know Jack - felt such respect and affection for him - we became part of this group of people who regularly showed up at that table. Jack's memory was incredible. He would remember particular details, not only of The Canterbury Tales but of The Book of the Duchess. It had been years since he had studied this work, or the criticism around it, [yet] he had complete command of the literature. And his insights with regard to contemporary literature were often good; often very perverse. Jack would be listening to a transistor in Aquatic Park, and my son, Joe, then a baby, would say, "What's that?" and Jack would reply, "That's Martian." Then he would talk about his radio transmissions from West Mars. Well, West Mars is like Borges' library at Babylon, it contained every book ever written. So that it was a kind of spiritus mundi; a "world memory," speaking through the radio, being transmitted. There of course you could have Chaucer and baseball and everything else. Nothing was excluded, except ego. That seems to have been excluded. Interesting.(See note 18)

One bright thread passing through the first year's meetings was the establishment of the White Rabbit Press. After a reading by the poets of the Magic Workshop on June 9, 1957, Spicer suggested to Joe Dunn that he found a press to publish this new writing. The time was right: a job had opened in the Print Department of the Greyhound Bus Company, and Joe was scheduled for an interview with Jack Sutherland, the head of the Print Department, who had attended the Art Institute with Jess and John Allen Ryan. Joe described the interview: "I mentioned that I had some artist friends, and when I said, 'John Ryan' his face fell. He said, 'Do you hang out in North Beach, by any chance?' 'Yes.' I almost blew the job right there." But he didn't. After a trial period of a few weeks, Joe was in, and Sutherland became helpful. "In fact it was he who I asked if I could use the equipment on Saturdays, at nights, for my own press publication. I had to buy my own paper; my own stock. He introduced me to paper salesmen. Plus I was working 9-5-; was running the press. It was through him the Press got off the ground. And he even, like, fabulously gave me the keys to the company - to the offices on Front Street." Joe Dunn's feverish energy and nose for talent guaranteed a steady, almost monthly, production of worthwhile chapbooks. "From November 1957 to September 1958 he surreptitiously produced ten titles under the White Rabbit imprint. In a uniform format, 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches, the books were lithographed from authors' typescripts." Love, the Poem, the Sea and Other Pieces Examined, by Steve Jonas, was the first White Rabbit book. Jess designed the cover, and 200 copies were printed, selling for 25 cents apiece.
      There have been a number of explanations of the press's name. Jack Spicer was attached to the image of "white rabbit." According to Jim Herndon, Spicer's interest grew from James Thurber's cartoons, which often depict the fruitlessness and anxiety of the rabbit's quest for escape from a cruel world. George Stanley suggested that white rabbits function, as in Alice in Wonderland, as messengers, figures of Hermes. Joe Dunn himself considered the origins of the name thirty years later. "I'd been reading Lewis Carroll. And I was also offered an audition in a play called The White Rabbit. And I started working for Western Greyhound Lines, and a greyhound chases a rabbit. But I don't know actually if Jack said it, or I said it." (See note 22)
      Robert Duncan remembered the day when he made the original drawing for the Press's colophon. "At a meeting with Jack and Joe, Jack was trying to persuade Joe Dunn to call the press 'White Rabbit' and Joe was reluctant - it was Joe's press; he was editor. Joe resisted, and remember it was Jack and Robin Blaser and Joe and Steve Jonas all in Boston who were together; and Joe published Steve's first book. But the decisions were made by Joe; he was editor. Alice in Wonderland was Jack's thing, not Joe's." (See note 23)
      The most valuable view may be Jack's own, given in a later poem, "Partington Ridge":

A white rabbit absolutely outlined in whiteness upon
a black background
A ghost
The most
We can say or think about it is it stays.
Not as a memory of something that happened or a symbol
or anything
We loved or respected or was a part of history
Our history
It stays
In a closet we wear like a ring on our fingers
The rabbit
Ghost of them
Most of what we knew.
      "They ran through the briers and they ran through the bushes, and they ran through the brambles where the rabbits wouldn't go."
      Rabbits don't know what they are.
      Ghosts are very similar. They are frightened and do not know what they are, but they can go where the rabbits cannot go. All the way to the heart. (See note 24)

Frequently White Rabbit Press business was conducted during the Sunday afternoon meetings. Together the group assembled After Lorca from pages piled throughout the whole length of the apartment. One member with a carrying voice was assigned to read aloud from a long novel on Stalingrad, while others bent to the task. Signatures of smaller White Rabbit books were sewn at the apartment as well (although the ambitious Lorca was sent to a binder after the sheaves were assembled.) After one meeting Joe Dunn was so energized he fired off a letter back to Blaser in Boston:

Jack Spicer read your poem Sunday together with Duncan & Everson. Just pure pleasure! All that terror to the reader was quite a shatter to Sunday. Spicer intimated that you call it a whatnot poem. . .. You must get pleasure from being so "outspoken" & Nijinsky & thank you for letting it out. Spicer is delighted no end, Duncan etc. & floored quite a few Sunday. I'm 3 acts, 3 books behind on Faust Foutu. I've got the O'Ryan poems of Olson on press now and one other book next; & I would love then to do the Robin Blaser book. I've already talked with Jack about this & would like to ask you about considering this format for any poems you'd judge. Or maybe like the whatnot poem I should get a hold of yr. work & ignore your no's? . . .But I won't move till I hear fr. you & get a hold on what Spicer has. I do hope we can do something in the W.R., Robin. Excuse the sketch-y, motel-y note and give my love to Steve. Until later - Joe. (See note 26)

Dunn's exuberant letter illustrates the enthusiasm members felt for the writing they were hearing. Spicer noted in a letter to Blaser: "Joe Dunn seems to be falling to pieces. I haven't seen much of him since I know I can't help. North Beach has swallowed him (the drunk world, not the queer world) and nobody goes after Jonah into that whale. You'll disapprove I know, but we have different ideas about the responsibilities of love." (See note 27)
      But Joe was feeling confused and ashamed. His relations with Spicer remained warm, and close; in troubled times Jack was his anchor. Although the younger poets Joe was meeting were not uniformly or even often gay, the great triumvirate were - "and their poems were gay poems." Jack's love for him was no burden; it hardly even touched his consciousness. "No, I didn't feel that, because my friends in Boston - that's my touchstone, that's where I come from - like, John Wieners and Steve [Jonas] are gay; and these were my really good friends, since I was an 18-year-old, when I was discovering that poetry indeed goes beyond English 101." Spicer wrote to Blaser that Joe had been "rejected by the Army (as a Queer) and is beginning to resemble Mike McClure." (See note 28) Jack would always love him, but he was "shocked, devastated" by Joe's increasing dependence on methedrine and liquor. Joe's addictive personality mirrored Jack's, perhaps intensifying Jack's revulsion as he watched his young friend's self-destruction. Even White Rabbit Press, a project that had brought them even closer, staggered on for only one more year, due to an increasing dependence on drugs. (See note 29)
On one Sunday afternoon Gary Snyder read his then-new Myths and Texts at a meeting at George Stanley's apartment. "Jack Spicer sat on the table and Gary sat underneath the table, and read, Spicer sitting on top of him." Joanne laughed. "Jack decided Snyder's poetry was all right. The thing was that you would read your poems and Jack Spicer would tell you if they were all right or no." At another meeting Snyder introduced Naim, a young Moslem from Lucknow with an M.A. in Urdu literature. Naim recited from Rumi's Diwani Shamsi Tabriz, which everyone found "stimulating." He also gave an example of the "same poem sung as a song, chanted as a poem, and recited in ordinary voice, to show three possible modes of delivery" and reported on the readings in India - "all night long with 5000 people listening and 4 or 5 poets trading off." (See note 31)
      The electricity of the Sunday meetings was heightened by unexpected alliances between poets of junior and senior orders. Duncan and Spicer had gingerly introduced their old Berkeley friend Landis Everson into the Sunday free-for-all. Everson's initial appearance, reading older poetry, had fallen flat. But in August 1958 he caught fire with the younger poets, especially with Ebbe Borregaard, who pronounced his new sequence of "Resemblances" beautiful. Duncan was especially gratified, because he had celebrated Everson's beauty and wealth years before in The Venice Poem. (See note 32)
      George Stanley recalled that the Sunday meetings began with

a reading, followed by "ordered" criticism. I think we [the young poets] could expect what we considered more of a fair hearing from Duncan than from Spicer. Duncan was much more willing to allow the possibility of there being something there, and Spicer was much more willing to allow for the possibility of there being nothing there, just "shit!" Spicer was a harder judge, but Duncan and Spicer were the judges. After you read a poem, they spoke first; if they didn't have anything to say, even those who were talking again - myself, Ebbe, Harold, Joanne, and even maybe Joe Dunn and John Wieners - were a bit more attentive.

If people that Spicer didn't know came to the meetings, they were "Chronicle reporters." Among them were two bearded men who brought beer with them. When they attended Spicer got into "a mood so foul you might as well not be having a meeting," not because Spicer was displeased at not being recognized - but because he felt that "they were there fundamentally to exploit art."
      The less inexperienced poets tended to imitate the senior poets' work.

We were all imitative. Joanne had written a poem in which she had unconsciously reproduced rhythms of Duncan's poetry, and Duncan said a significant thing: "If you want to consciously imitate my work, that's fine, but don't be so lax that you find yourself unconsciously lapsing into another person's voice." That could have been applied to any of us. It did make it kind of hard to write poetry if you were trying not to imitate at the same time Spicer, Creeley, Duncan, Olson. . .. This was not a kaffeeklatsch; this was not a meeting of people sitting around being courteous to each other. This was a meeting where your life was on the line. Your poem was on the line, and that was your life that week. And if you read your poem and Spicer said, "Oh shit!" or "You can get that published in …" - some magazine Spicer had contempt for - it wasn't really very nice.
      There weren't any grudges. If Spicer thought your poem was shit, that didn't mean that he thought you were shit. I remember one time saying to Spicer that I hadn't written any poems for three weeks and I felt very bad, and he said, "Wait until it's three years."

"Rarely was there much disagreement," Stanley recalled. "Duncan didn't very often disagree with Spicer. It's just that Duncan was more willing to talk in a more generally literary sense about the poem, whereas Spicer rarely was interested in talking about that. Either Aquatic Park, or a bar, might be a place for the serious discussion of literature. The poetry meeting was definitely not a place for such a discussion. It was more like a bull ring. " (See note 33)
The Sunday meetings attracted a variegated group of men and women, but why were no more women writing than Joanne Kyger? The reason was partly financial, since the women who were likely to contribute were busy supporting their men. Dora Geissler recalled:

I didn't read anything at Joe Dunn's. I was Harold [Dull]'s woman. It was sort of like - There wasn't room for me to write, too. There were women in the group, but only Joanne did any writing. Nemi [Frost] went to the poetry meetings, too, but she wasn't a writer. It was the group that went. Joanne and Nemi and I were very good friends. We were so different we weren't competitive. Nor were we feminists. We all enjoyed the company of gay men, probably for similar reasons. For me, coming to San Francisco and meeting gay men was a wonderful experience, because I had just been through that season in my life where you're seen as a sex object, and in Seattle, I would try to talk to people and think they were interested in my mind, and they just wanted to get in my pants? That was always so disappointing to me, and then when I met gay men in San Francisco, and realized, "They're interested in my ideas," I was just overjoyed! I knew my gay friends enjoyed my company for me alone, not as someone to fuck. That was a very comfortable place for me to be then. Feminism really hadn't been invented then to any extent, and most women were uninteresting to me. They would talk about the house, and clothes, and I was never interested in makeup, clothes, the things that they talked about that didn't interest me. The world of ideas and poetry and politics that gay friends would talk to me about, why, that's where I felt at home. (See note 34)

In mid-March 1958, after quitting his post as assistant director of the Poetry Center, Robert Duncan moved with Jess to Stinson Beach, a small town in Marin County just north of San Francisco. Thereafter he attended the Sunday meetings less frequently. Spicer continued in the senior role the two poets had hitherto played, but some felt a diminution in the quality of the meetings. "The most marvelous energy was when both Robert and Jack were there," Harold said. "It was a real difference when Robert wasn't there anymore; his absence was very noticeable. They'd talk to each other in their different styles; they'd criticize each other; but not always opposed forces in their purposes. Sometimes supportive. I don't remember sparks flying," Dull continued, adding that Duncan sometimes wrote during the sessions, which added to his legend. "I remember him working on the Pindar poem." (See note 35) After Duncan's move, even Jack felt that the "Sunday afternoon era will pass now." (See note 36) Yet the meetings had built a momentum, and a reputation, and they continued for years.


This excerpt is reproduced with permission from Poet Be Like God - Jack Spicer and the San Francisco Renaissance, by Kevin Killian and Lewis Ellingham, Wesleyan University Press, 1998.


Co-author Kevin Killian, San Francisco, 1997. Photo copyright © John Tranter 1997, 1999.

Co-author Kevin Killian, San Francisco, 1997. Photo copyright © John Tranter 1997, 1999.



1. Donald Allen, interviewed by Kevin Killian, October 4, 1990.
2. Both the context of the letter and the text suggest that Duncan had access to the original version of this "letter," which did not see print until 1993 when it was published as "'Letter to Robin Blaser,' from Admonitions (earlier draft)" in Lyric 2 (San Francisco, July 1993), pp. 85-89; this version differs significantly from the later one printed in The Collected Books, p. 46.
3. Duncan/Blaser correspondence, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
4. James Broughton to Kevin Killian, October 9, 1990.
5. Joanne Kyger, interviewed by Lewis Ellingham, 1982.
6. Tom Field, interviewed by Lewis Ellingham, 1982.
7. Rumaker, "Robert Duncan in San Francisco," p. 29.
8. "The Question," from a letter to Blaser from Duncan, undated [1958], Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
9. Harold Dull, interviewed by Lewis Ellingham, 1982.


Kevin Killian and Lewis Ellingham

Kevin Killian (left) and Lewis Ellingham, San Francisco, 1997; photo copyright © Craig Goodman, 1997, 1999


10. Dora Fitzgerald to Lewis Ellingham, September 23, 1990.
11. Dora Fitzgerald, "A Jack Memoir," pp. 4-5.
12. Ida Hodes, "San Francisco Poetry," in Program, Eleventh Annual Arts Festival, September 26-29, 1957, Washington Square Park; from the files of the Poetry Center at San Francisco State University.
13. Spicer's comments on the Arts Festival are from his letter to Don Allen, September 30, 1957, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
14. Manroot 10 (San Francisco, 1974), p. 25.
15. Joanne Kyger, The Tapestry and the Web (San Francisco: Four Seasons, 1965).
16. Joanne Kyger, interviewed by Lewis Ellingham, 1982.
17. David Meltzer, interviewed by Lewis Ellingham, 1983. Letter, George Stanley to Lewis Ellingham, December 19, 1982: "having come in late, Broughton didn't realize it was part 1 of Part I."
18. Ron Loewinsohn, interviewed by Lewis Ellingham, 1982.
19. Joe Dunn, interviewed by Lewis Ellingham, 1986.
20. Alastair Johnston, "Introduction," Bibliography of White Rabbit Press(Berkeley, Calif.: Poltroon Press, 1985).
21. George Stanley, interviewed by Lewis Ellingham, 1982.
22. Joe Dunn, interviewed by Lewis Ellingham, 1986. Jack Goodwin, in his memoir "Spicer and All the Poets" (p. 34), offers another version of the name's origin. "Little Joe Dunn was a Black Mountain poet, and he and his wife sat on the floor one night listening to records of my opera 'The White Rabbit Caper,' and the next day he started the White Rabbit Press."
23. Robert Duncan, in telephone conversation with Lewis Ellingham, October 22, 1983.
24. The poem's title, "Partington Ridge" (CB, p. 136), derives from a location by this name in Big Sur coastal country where Spicer spent some time in the 1940s; it was also the home of novelist Henry Miller, whose book Remember to Remember was the subject for one of Spicer's very few reviews (in Occident, 1948).
25. Joe Dunn, interviewed by Lewis Ellingham, 1986.
26. Joe Dunn, undated letter to Robin Blaser, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
27 "Letters to Robin Blaser," in line 9, p. 35.
28. Spicer to Blaser, n.d., in line 9, p. 45.
29. Joe Dunn, interviewed by Lewis Ellingham, 1986.
Kevin Killian and Lewis Ellingham

Kevin Killian (left) and Lewis Ellingham, San Francisco, 1997; photo copyright © Craig Goodman, 1997, 1999

30. Joanne Kyger, interviewed by Lewis Ellingham, 1982.
31. Gary Snyder to Ruth Witt-Diamant, December 17, 1958, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
32. Robert Duncan to Robin Blaser, August 6, 1958, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
33. George Stanley, interviewed by Lewis Ellingham, 1982.
34. Dora [Geissler] Fitzgerald, interviewed by Kevin Killian, 1991.
35. Harold Dull, interviewed by Lewis Ellingham, 1982.
36. Robert Duncan to Robin Blaser, March 24, 1958, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.


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