Author : Jack Spicer

by Feb 5, 2019Queer Syllabus

The Queer Syllabus is a joint project from The Rumpus and Foglifter Press that allows writers to nominate works for a new canon of queer literature. When we identify our roots, when we point to the work that shaped us as writers and as people, we demonstrate that our stories are timeless, essential, and important—and so are we. The Queer Syllabus is edited by Wesley O. Cohen and Marisa Siegel.


Jack Spicer (1925–1965) was born in Hollywood and moved to the Bay Area at the end of World War II. At Berkeley, he fell into a circle of young gay poets and artists who styled themselves, with amusing panache, the “Berkeley Renaissance.” Anarchist by nature, his left-wing political convictions derailed his career at the University, and rather than signing their anti-Communist “Loyalty Oath,” he simply walked away, pride intact.

A short time later in 1953, Spicer became the secretary to the Oakland chapter of the Mattachine Society, the leading gay and lesbian activist groups in the USA. His poetry is luscious, severe, funny, tragic in turns, and it was all dictated to him, or so he said, by forces from the “invisible world,” a far cry from the prevailing “find your voice” lyric mode of mainstream verse culture.

His writing, whether in verse or prose, is always haunted by whispers from another world: he once punned on the Greek word “logos” as “low ghost.” Young people are drawn both to his excess and his strict prohibitions. “Words are what sticks to the real,” he wrote, “We use them to push the real, to drag the real into the poem. They are what we hold on with, nothing else. They are as valuable in themselves as rope with nothing to be tied to.”

Spicer died from alcoholism at forty in the poverty ward at San Francisco General Hospital. His death was a great loss to world poetry, but his writing, still in print, is read more today than ever before.


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