Monday, August 6, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 44.1 (Jack Spicer)

Poet Be Like God
Ellingham, Lewis & Killian, Kevin
Poet Be Like God: Jack Spicer & The San Francisco Renaissance

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. I have a memory of seeing this book oat a Borders in Cheektowaga, NY, possibly of even holding it in my hands there. I guess I could have bought it there, but it seems unlikely. Maybe I just saw it on the shelf, took it off, put it back.

One of my most vivid memories of my first year in the Poetics Program in Buffalo was the talk Kevin Killian gave on the writing of this book. As I sit here thinking about how to tell this story, I feel suddenly aware of how anecdotally inclined I am. Kevin told several great anecdotes about his more unorthodox research methods and I remember them very clearly. Yet, I remember almost nothing about the biography itself, except one anecdote about Spicer living on peanut butter sandwiches.

The two anecdotes that stand out both involve some creative sleuthing on Kevin's part. In the first story, Kevin looks up the apartment Spicer rented when he was a young poet living on peanut butter sandwiches. I think he lived in the same building or house as Philip K. Dick. Anyhow, Kevin contacts the current occupant and goes to investigate. Kevin had read a description of some hideous wallpaper in, I think, the bathroom. During his tour of the apartment, he excuses himself to investigate said john. Inside, he gets behind the toilet and peels off a layer of newer wallpaper to get a look at the one he'd read about -- and there it is!

My other favorite, which I often tell people, involves Allen Ginsberg. Spicer wrote a poem mocking one of Ginberg's poems. I forget which poem. Funny, I always remember it making fun of the "King of May" poem, but I feel like that must have been written after Spicer's death. Regardless, Spicer pokes fun at Ginsberg in one of his poems, so, during his research, Kevin asks Ginsberg what he thinks of it. Ginsberg says he isn't aware of any such poem.

Kevin raises an eyebrow.

Months or years later, two friends of Kevin's are staying in Allen's apartment in the East Village and call Kevin to tell him so. He immediately asks them to check the library for a copy of Spicer's poems and to turn to the poem in question. They find the book on the shelves, open to the poem, and discover that Ginsberg has heavily annotated that page!

Anyhow, like most biographies, I never got through this one, which says nothing about the quality of the book itself, only that biographies tend to bore me. Anecdotes, on the other hand, well, that's another story!

1 comment:

Kevin Killian said...

You remembered those anecdotes very well! In the first one I forgot to give credit to my friend Bruce who distracted the tenants by telling them about the Gnostics while I used the bathroom. The second story about Ginsberg's book collection, my informants there were Mark Ewert and Dennis Cooper.

The book ay have tended to bore you but you should keep on reading! I venture to say that it may the most interesting book on your shelf! Samuel Johnson said, A man who has lost interest in biography has lost interest in common sense!

Otherwise I salute you, Mike, may your journey never end!