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Lewis Ellingham's POET BE LIKE GOD MSS 126
MSS 126  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Biography
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Access
  • Publication Rights

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Lewis Ellingham's Poet Be Like God
    Identifier/Call Number: MSS 126
    Contributing Institution: Mandeville Special Collections Library
    La Jolla, California 92093-0175
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 3.6 Linear feet 8 archives boxes, 4 card file boxes
    Date (inclusive): 1983-1987
    Abstract: Papers of writer Lewis Ellingham, containing audio recordings and photocopies of materials used in his research on poet Jack Spicer (1925-1965) and the Spicer Circle, which flourished from roughly 1956 to 1965. The collection consists largely of interview recordings and transcripts, correspondence, and drafts of Ellingham's book Poet Be Like God: Jack Spicer and the San Francisco Renaissance (1998). The papers do not include any of Ellingham's creative writing or personal correspondence. The collection is arranged in four series: INTERVIEWS, OTHER WRITERS' FILES, SPICER CIRCLE PAPERS and POET BE LIKE GOD TYPESCRIPT.
    Creator: Ellingham, Lewis

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Lewis Ellingham Papers contain audio recordings and photocopies of materials used by Ellingham in his research on Jack Spicer and the Spicer Circle, which flourished from roughly 1956 to 1965. The collection consists largely of interview recordings and transcripts, and drafts of Ellingham's book Poet Be Like God: Jack Spicer and the San Francisco Renaissance (1998). The papers do not include any of Ellingham's creative writing or personal correspondence.
    The papers are highlighted by lengthy quotations from large amounts of poetry of the time which is, in some cases, nowhere else available. Moreover, since many of the persons interviewed are Ellingham's friends, this collection also serves as a sort of memoir.
    The collection consists of four series: INTERVIEWS, OTHER WRITERS' FILES, SPICER CIRCLE PAPERS and POET BE LIKE GOD TYPESCRIPT. The organization follows Ellingham's own arrangement. All papers in the collection are photocopies of the originals which currently are held at the State University of New York at Buffalo library.
    The first series, INTERVIEWS, includes two subseries. "Transcripts and Related Materials," the first subseries, is comprised of alphabetically arranged (by interviewee) typescript transcripts of the interviews of the Spicer Circle scene witnesses as well as related correspondence (mostly between Ellingham and the interviewees). The written transcriptions were created by Ellingham and are unedited, so some discrepancies between the oral recordings and the written versions exist. Transcripts of Ellingham's interviews with Harry Z. Coren and Nemi Frost (both of which took place in 1987) are missing; however, the recordings of those interviews are filed in the second subseries, "Cassette Recordings."
    The "Cassette Recordings" subseries, which contains the original cassette recordings of the interviews, is also arranged alphabetically by interviewee. The subseries also includes two recordings of lectures made by Jack Spicer.
    The series OTHER WRITERS' FILES involves materials relating to Spicer (journal entries, notes, essays, articles and ephemera) collected and created by Russell FitzGerald and Robert Duncan and given to Ellingham to assist him in his research.
    The third series, SPICER CIRCLE PAPERS, is primarily comprised of correspondence written by and to Ellingham about the writing, revising, editing and publishing of his book. Included in this series are copies of some of the last letters sent to Spicer before his death in 1965. Also included are letters from Denise Levertov to Ellingham, in which she accuses Spicer of sexism and explicates the reasons behind her accusation. Another interesting aspect of the correspondence is that Ellingham regularly sent interviewees transcripts of the interviews of other witnesses, and often they wrote Ellingham back to comment on or to refute the other person's account.
    A large portion of the letters deal with Ellingham's concern over securing the publication of his book. Many of the letters are devoted to Ellingham's concern over Clayton Eshleman's (editor of Sulfur) rejection of the book and his comment that Ellingham should hire an editor to revise and condense the work so that it would have a broader, more academic appeal. Also found in this series is a variety of miscellaneous materials relating to the Spicer circle and the White Rabbit Press.
    The final series, POET BE LIKE GOD TYPESCRIPT, consists of an early version of the first six chapters of Ellingham's book as well as the complete 1984 version (thirty-six chapters).


    Lewis Ellingham, writer of prose, poetry and fiction, was born on 27 February 1933 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He was the son of a Protestant small town newspaperman and a German Catholic mother. He attended Campion, a Jesuit residential high school from 1947 to 1951. Upon graduating, he began studies in Bloomington at Indiana University.
    The years 1952 through 1965 were most pivotal in influencing Ellingham's writing career -- as is revealed in the following statement he made in 1990:
    "In 1952, at age 19, I left home, leaving Indiana University in my first year; avoiding the Korean War draft by declaring myself homosexual at the same time, my student deferment automatically ending once I had left college. I lived briefly in New York's Greenwich Village and Chicago's Hyde Park, where my older brother...attended the University of Chicago. In 1954 I came to Berkeley and, shortly afterward, to North Beach in San Francisco, where... [for the most part] I have lived ever since. The central event of these decades in San Francisco was my close association with Jack Spicer's circle of writers and artists, in my case from 1961 through 1965 [the year of Spicer's death]."
    From 1963-1965, Ellingham served as book editor for the Sierra Club, editing various guides and articles as well as the Exhibit Format series. Other than that job, Ellingham has been formally employed only sparingly. His most prolific writing periods have been during the 1960s, and from 1979 to the present. In 1990, he was an organizer of "OutWrite '90," a gay writers' conference in San Francisco, which attracted over a thousand participants.
    Ellingham has published poetry, prose poetry and short fiction in the following publications: M (1963); Mythrander (1964); Open Space (1964); Magazine (1965); Cassiopeia and Cassiopeia/Ephemeris (1967-69); Nine Queen Bees (1970); The Jefferson Airplane (booklet, 1971); The Capilano Review (1976); No Apologies (1983-85); Mirage (1985-86); Acts (1983-87); Soup (1984); Ironwood (1987); and Line (1986-88). He has also written these unpublished books: The Wounded Laurel (poetry, 1971); Twenty Years of Writing (1982); ' Mechanically We Move in God's Universe' (ten stories from the San Francisco Bay Region, 1983); The Bushes They Were Bells (fantasy fiction, 1985); The Countless Unmurmuring Dead (autobiography, 1986); Koot's Death (novel, 1987); Xavier (novel, 1988); and The Rain Column (novel, 1989). In 1984, he wrote Poet Be Like God: Jack Spicer and the San Francisco Renaissance which was not published until 1998, (the research materials for this book comprise UCSD's Ellingham collection).
    Jack Spicer (1925-1965) was a San Francisco poet who rejected the traditional centers for poetry -- i.e., academia and the large publishing houses. As a result, he devoted his life to writing poetry by day and forging a community of young, experimental poets by night in the North Beach bars. While working as a research linguist at UC Berkeley for David Reed and briefly as an instructor at San Francisco State (1957), he also founded White Rabbit Press and two magazines, J and Open Space, in which he published much of his own work and that of his friends. In 1957, he claimed to experience dictation by voices other than his own, and he began incorporating these voices in much of his work.
    Spicer's work is noted for its experimentation with language, form and compositional method, and it often focuses on the dialectic between language and experience and between the self and the outside world. Recently, Spicer's writing has been growing in critical acclaim, even though it has long been revered by many poets.
    Lewis Ellingham, who met Spicer in 1961, also came to admire and respect Spicer's work. Out of devotion to Spicer, he decided in 1983 to document the inner workings of the circle of writers that had assembled around Spicer so as to explore the implications for how and why it occurred. Ellingham interviewed over thirty witnesses to the scene - including such notables as Robert Duncan and Robin Blaser - and recorded their comments on cassette tape and in writing.
    One of the products of this research was the manuscript Poet Be Like God. Ellingham's approach in creating this book was more sociological than literary. As he wrote in a letter to Michael Davidson, "I did not undertake this work to celebrate these people; they only are a part of my theme, which basically is Proustian of a kind of Left Bank I admire."

    Preferred Citation

    Lewis Ellingham's Poet Be Like God, MSS 0126. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UCSD.

    Acquisition Information

    Not Available


    Duplication of materials from this collection, other than note taking, is prohibited. The original collection is located in the SUNY-Buffalo Poetry Collection and requests for duplication must be directed to SUNY-Buffalo.

    Publication Rights

    Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Blaser, Robin
    Duerden, Richard
    Miles, Josephine, 1911-
    Spicer, Jack
    American literature--20th century--History and criticism
    American literature--California--San Francisco--History and criticism
    American poetry--20th century--Manuscripts
    San Francisco (Calif.) -- Intellectual life -- 20th century