People / Jack Spicer

Writer, educator. Jack Spicer was born on January 30, 1925 in Los Angeles. Spicer was an openly gay American poet who, along with Robin Blaser and Robert Duncan, figured prominently in the San Francisco Renaissance. Spicer’s poetry is noted for its lyric beauty, intellectual power, and formal invention. His theory of poetry as dictation compared the poet to a crystal set or radio receiving Martian transmission signals from the invisible world or outer space. Though seemingly far-fetched, this theory was partly grounded in his study of structural linguistics and served as an early inspiration for the Language poets that emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1954, he co-founded Six Gallery, the scene of the infamous October 1955 reading of “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg that launched the West Coast Beat movement. During this same period, Spicer participated in “Blabbermouth Night” at The Place in San Francisco, an improvisational poetry contest that referenced Spicer’s view of poetry as being dictated to the poet.

In addition to his prolific writing career, Spicer held a series of academic posts at the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Minnesota, and the California School of Fine Arts. Between 1945 and 1953, Spicer studied, worked as a research linguist, and published poetry at the University of California at Berkeley, where he met Duncan and Blaser. Spicer also taught an influential workshop called “Poetry as Magic” at San Francisco State College. In February of 1965 after losing his position at the University of California at Berkeley, Spicer was invited to give a reading at the University of British Columbia. He returned to Vancouver that summer to give a series of talks now known as Spicer’s “Vancouver Lectures.” The success of these visits encouraged Spicer to accept an offer of a teaching job. Before he could emigrate, however, he collapsed in his building elevator and died soon thereafter from acute alcoholism on August 17, 1965 in the poverty ward of San Francisco General Hospital.