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.
From the time it first emerged as a renegade liberating voice in the early 1950s, beat writing changed the American social literary scene. Poets like Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti altered the sound of U.S. poetry while Jack Kerouac's bebop chant--particularly in his classic On the Road--literally changed how Americans spoke. The beats' fame became so great so quickly that their critics accused them of hypocrisy. Not so Jack Spicer; while Ginsberg and Kerouac were busy publishing and promoting their work, Spicer--whose original lyric voice and gay content still resonate today--spent most of his time disdaining the publishing world and making enemies. In Poet Be Like God, journalist Lewis Ellingham and experimental novelist Kevin Killian have produced not only a fully realized portrait of Spicer, but a complexly woven historical and literary tapestry. Spicer emerges here as a brilliant, difficult, and largely unlikable man whose talent for writing matched his inability to function in the world. Ellingham and Killian are equally concerned with explicating the San Francisco renaissance and charting the emergence of North Beach as a gay neighborhood; Poet Be Like God thus rediscovers Jack Spicer for a new generation of readers and presents us with a unique and startling look at gay and literary history. --Michael Bronski