Scope and Content of Collection
Title: Lewis Ellingham's Poet Be Like God Research Materials
Identifier/Call Number: MSS 0126
Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, California, 92093-0175
3.6 Linear feet
(8 archives boxes, 4 card file boxes)
Date (inclusive): 1983-1987
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
Scope and Content of Collection
The Lewis Ellingham Papers contain sound 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 contemporary poetry which is, in some cases, available nowhere else. Moreover, since many of the
persons interviewed are Ellingham's friends, this collection also serves as a sort of memoir.
All papers in the collection are photocopies of the originals which currently are held at the State University of New York
at Buffalo library.
Arranged in four series: 1) INTERVIEWS; 2) OTHER WRITERS' FILES; 3) SPICER CIRCLE PAPERS, and 4)
POET BE LIKE GOD TYPESCRIPT. The organization follows Ellingham's own arrangement.
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:
Open Space (1964);
Cassiopeia and Cassiopeia/Ephemeris (1967-69);
Nine Queen Bees (1970);
The Jefferson Airplane (booklet, 1971);
The Capilano Review (1976);
No Apologies (1983-85);
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,
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."
Poet Be Like God Research Materials, MSS 126. Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego.
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 are held by the creator of the collection.
Subjects and Indexing Terms
Allen, Donald, 1912-2004 -- Correspondence
Blaser, Robin -- Correspondence
Borregaard, Ebbe -- Correspondence
Creeley, Robert, 1926-2005 -- Correspondence
Davidson, Michael, 1944- -- Correspondence
Duncan, Robert, 1919-1988
Ellingham, Lewis -- Archives
Levertov, Denise, 1923-1997 -- Correspondence
Miles, Josephine, 1911-1985
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