Poet Be Like God / Edition 1

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Overview

Jack Spicer, unlike his contemporaries Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Gary Snyder, was a poet who disdained publishing and relished his role as a social outcast. He died in 1965 virtually unrecognized, yet in the following years his work and thought have attracted and intrigued an international audience. Now this comprehensive biography gives a pivotal poet his due. Based on interviews with scores of Spicer's contemporaries, Poet Be Like God details the most intimate aspects of Spicer's life—his family, his friends, his lovers—illuminating not only the man but also many of his poems.

Such illumination extends also to the works of others whom Spicer came to know, including the writers Frank O'Hara, Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, Helen Adam, Robin Blaser, Charles Olson, Philip K. Dick, Richard Brautigan, and Marianne Moore and the painters Jess, Fran Herndon, and Jay DeFeo. The resulting narrative, an engaging chronicle of the San Francisco Renaissance and the emergence of the North Beach gay scene during the 50s and 60s, will be indispensable reading for students of American literature and gay studies.

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Editorial Reviews

Brent Cunningham
Spicer makes it difficult for anyone to preserve his memory without also preserving his faults, and yet it is this very fact that causes his readers to become entangled in Spicer even as they are angered by him. —Washington Review
Library Journal
A key player in the San Francisco poetry and gay cultures of the 1940s and 1950s, Spicer (The Tower of Babel) had, as editor Gizzi argues somewhat awkwardly, "all the curious attractions one needs to become a cult figure: minor status in his life, alien to most middle-class conventions, unhygienic, singular to a fault, and absolute." Together, these two volumes portray Spicer as a verbose but physically ugly and bad-tempered wretch whom some for whatever reason found magnetic. Part of Spicer's problem (and perhaps his allure) was his perverse antagonism to the glamour of Po Biz: his biographers quote an associate who remembers him saying, "If they think I'm going to be like Allen Ginsberg and fly around and sleep in people's houses and eat their meals, they're crazy." Gizzi (Artificial Heart, Burning Deck, 1994) is a poet and professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and freelance writers Ellingham and Killian are also California-based. Together, their books leave the reader with an impression of someone more important as a key historical figure in the postwar gay, San Francisco, and beat scenes than as a writer with anything approaching the transcendence achieved by the Ginsberg whom Spicer both despised and envied. -- David Kirby, Florida State University, Tallahassee
Library Journal
A key player in the San Francisco poetry and gay cultures of the 1940s and 1950s, Spicer (The Tower of Babel) had, as editor Gizzi argues somewhat awkwardly, "all the curious attractions one needs to become a cult figure: minor status in his life, alien to most middle-class conventions, unhygienic, singular to a fault, and absolute." Together, these two volumes portray Spicer as a verbose but physically ugly and bad-tempered wretch whom some for whatever reason found magnetic. Part of Spicer's problem (and perhaps his allure) was his perverse antagonism to the glamour of Po Biz: his biographers quote an associate who remembers him saying, "If they think I'm going to be like Allen Ginsberg and fly around and sleep in people's houses and eat their meals, they're crazy." Gizzi (Artificial Heart, Burning Deck, 1994) is a poet and professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and freelance writers Ellingham and Killian are also California-based. Together, their books leave the reader with an impression of someone more important as a key historical figure in the postwar gay, San Francisco, and beat scenes than as a writer with anything approaching the transcendence achieved by the Ginsberg whom Spicer both despised and envied. -- David Kirby, Florida State University, Tallahassee
Library Journal

Spicer died at 40 in 1965, having published a few titles and served as poetry editor of the Nation. He left behind a pile of papers that have been sifted through over the decades. The best of his total output appears in this collection (nearly 20 percent has never seen the light of day), giving intent readers the chance to discover (or rediscover) Spicer's brand of sharp, acidulous, glittery, insightful poetry.


—Barbara Hoffert
Brent Cunningham
Spicer makes it difficult for anyone to preserve his memory without also preserving his faults, and yet it is this very fact that causes his readers to become entangled in Spicer even as they are angered by him. -- Washington Review
Kirkus Reviews
Beat insider Ellingham and novelist Killian (Shy) have here embraced a most resistant, though not unworthy, subject in poet Jack Spicer. Spicer catalyzed the development of the Beat Generation in 1950s San Francisco. Though few literary tales have been told more often (or more tediously) than those pertaining to the Beats, Spicer's own has been at best ill served, and at worst wholly ignored, by the prevailing mythologies of the time. The authors have thus been admirably careful to keep their focus on the enigmatic Spicer, whose life and verse grew progressively more estranged, indeed bitterly so, from those of his more visible peers. In following Spicer's California odysseyþending brutally in San Francisco, where he died from alcohol-induced liver failure in 1965, aged 40þEllingham and Killian tread too lightly on their subject's more troublesome personality traits, e.g., his entrenched anti-Semitism and boorish bad will toward those poets daring enough to court his approval. This largesse would rankle less, however, had they not chosen to extend it to the poetry itself, which, while capable of startling effects and moving lyricism, frequently succumbs to the same narcissistic bloat that long ago rendered the Beat temperament clich‚. Instead, the authors have provided, albeit in impressive detail, a cosmology of poetic egotism, with Spicer's now the origin. Ultimately, Spicer's legacy, like that of any devalued artist, must endure the trial of rigorous critical appraisal. Despite the current academic fashion, literary resurrections of this sort cannot be taken on faith, but rather require a proof that the authors, true believers both, fail to supply in thisotherwise well-researched and readable biography.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780819553089
  • Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/1998
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 468
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.19 (d)

Meet the Author

LEWIS ELLINGHAM is a freelance editor and writer and author of The Jefferson Airplane (1972). Writer KEVIN KILLIAM’s recent books are Little Men (1997), Arctic Summer (1997), and Argento Series (1997). Both live in San Francisco.

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Table of Contents

“Poet, Be Like God”
Prodigy Gone Wrong
After Berkeley
The Poet in New York (and Boston)
“The Whole Boon of His Fertility”
Honey in the Groin
“The Hell of Personal Relations”
Heads of the Town
The Holy Grail
The Long Silence Crisis
“The Chill in My Bones”
Last Summer
Epilogue

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