California poet Jack Spicer attended the University of Redlands from 1943 to 1944, transferring to the University of California at Berkeley, where he earned his B.A. in 1947. His first poems appeared in The Occident (1946) and Contour 1 (1947), in which he introduced his oft-repeated imagery of chess, cards, baseball, and other games. While earning his M.A., which he received in 1950, he formed important friendships with fellow poets Robert Duncan and Robin Blaser, whom Spicer dubbed the core of the “Berkeley renaissance,” each poet contributing much to the others’ subsequent poetic careers. At Berkeley, Spicer studied linguistics and poetic history, contributing to the Linguistic Atlas of the Pacific Coast from 1958 to his death. His linguistic studies led to many other scholarly works and influenced his poetic doctrine that the meanings of words are arbitrary and changeable.
From 1940 to 1950 Spicer also worked as a radio announcer for KPFA in San Francisco. His work there provided the imagery for Billy the Kid, considered an allegory on death and homosexuality representing Spicer’s early interest in writing imaginary elegies. His refusal to sign a loyalty oath at Berkeley effectively ended Spicer’s mainstream academic career. Dividing his life between academic studies and poetic concerns, he became a local poet in bars and helped form the historic Six Gallery. This small art gallery hosted poetry readings and would become the setting for the launch of the Beat generation, of which Spicer was a marginal member, although he later became the leader of the “anti-Beat” poets in the San Francisco Bay Area.
In 1957, a pivotal year for Spicer, his poems appeared in the important Evergreen Review. He formed the influential “Magic Workshop” teaching sessions in San Francisco, and he prompted poet and...
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