Jack Spicer: Overview

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Author: Kevin Killian
Date: 1994
From: Gay & Lesbian Literature(Vol. 1. )
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 910 words

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In the last nine years of his short life, Jack Spicer completed a dozen books of poetry and established a poetic tradition on the West Coast that ran parallel, yet counter, to the contemporaneous Beat movement. As a young Berkeley student in the late 1940s, Spicer quickly met other gay male poets, including Robin Blaser and Robert Duncan. They began a lifelong association which Spicer half-seriously called the "Berkeley Renaissance." His poetry of this period is elegiac, lyrical, magic—without the formal innovations developed later in the 1950s—and heavily homoerotic.

Spicer's finest early poems are the "Imaginary Elegies," which became his contribution to Donald Allen's influential anthology The New American Poetry 1945-1960. "When I praise the sun or any bronze god derived from it," he wrote in the first elegy, "Don't think I wouldn't rather praise the very tall blond boy / Who ate all of my potato-chips at the Red Lizard. / It's just that I won't see him when I open my eyes / And I will see the sun." Politically an anarchist, Spicer found his academic career stalled after he refused to sign the Loyalty Oath, an anti-Communist provision required of all state employees in California. Just as problematic in terms of career was his open and avowed homosexuality.

In 1957, Spicer returned to the Bay Area, after a prolonged absence in New York and...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420007611