Lewis Ellingham's Poet be Like God Research Materials

Finding aid prepared by Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego
Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, California, 92093-0175
Copyright 2005

Descriptive Summary

Title: Lewis Ellingham's Poet Be Like God Research Materials
Identifier/Call Number: MSS 0126
Contributing Institution: Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, California, 92093-0175
Languages: 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).
Creator: Ellingham, Lewis

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: 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 Research Materials, MSS 126. Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego.

Acquisition Information

Acquired 1986-1987.


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

Allen, Donald, 1912-2004 -- Correspondence
Blaser, Robin -- Correspondence
Borregaard, Ebbe -- Correspondence
Creeley, Robert, 1926-2005 -- Correspondence
Davidson, Michael, 1944- -- Correspondence
Duerden, Richard
Duncan, Robert, 1919-1988
Ellingham, Lewis -- Archives
Levertov, Denise, 1923-1997 -- Correspondence
Miles, Josephine, 1911-1985
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



Scope and Content of Series

1) INTERVIEWS. Arranged in two subseries: A) Transcripts and Related Materials, and B) Audiocassettes.
A) Transcripts and Related Materials: Alphabetically arranged (by interviewee) typescript transcripts of the interviews related to the Spicer Circle scene, 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 sound 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."
B) Audiocassettes: Original cassette recordings of the interviews, also arranged alphabetically by interviewee. The subseries also includes two recordings of lectures made by Jack Spicer.

Transcripts and Related Materials


Blaser, Robin

Box 1, Folder 1

Telephone interview from San Francisco to Vancouver 1983

Box 1, Folder 2

"Opposition in the Life and Work of Jack Spicer"; fragments of a telephone interview with Blaser; galley proof for New Apologies, issue #1 1983

Box 1, Folder 3

Notes and partial transcript of conversation between Blaser and Ellingham in San Francisco 1983

Box 1, Folder 4

Bernstein, Charles. Letter to Ellingham about interview of Robin Blaser

Box 1, Folder 5

Watson, Scott. Letter to Ellingham about interview of Robin Blaser

Box 1, Folder 6

Borregaard, Ebbe and Joanne Kyger 1982

Box 1, Folder 7

Brodecky, Bill 1982


Chugg, Gail

Box 1, Folder 8

Also includes pre-recorded stories and incidents from Chugg's "The Company of Men" 1982

Box 1, Folder 9

"The Company of Men: A Recital for Six Actors and an Audience" -- written by Chugg

Box 1, Folder 10

Letter from Chugg to Ellingham 1984

Box 1, Folder 11

Connor, Bob 1982

Box 1, Folder 12

Duerden, Richard 1982

Box 1, Folder 13

Dull, Harold 1982


Duncan, Robert

Box 1, Folder 14

Includes typescript letter to Duncan from Ellingham 1983

Box 2, Folder 1-2

Includes typescript letters to Duncan from Ellingham 1983

Box 2, Folder 3

Copyright waiver and registration forms for the Duncan interviews 1983 - 1985

Box 2, Folder 4

Correspondence between Duncan and Ellingham about the interviews 1982 - 1985

Box 2, Folder 5

Dunn, Joe 1986

Box 2, Folder 6

Everson, Landis 1983

Box 2, Folder 7

Fabian, Gerald 1982

Box 2, Folder 8

Fagin, Larry 1983

Box 2, Folder 9

Field, Thomas 1982

Box 2, Folder 10

Alexander, Paul 1982

Box 2, Folder 11

Herndon, Fran 1982

Box 2, Folder 12-13

Herndon, Jim 1982 - 1983

Box 2, Folder 14

Kearney, Larry 1982

Box 3, Folder 1

Loewinsohn, Ronald 1982

Box 3, Folder 2

Mackintosh, Graham 1983

Box 3, Folder 3

McNeill, Bill 1982

Box 3, Folder 4

Meltzer, David. Includes letters and a portion of the transcript edited by Meltzer 1983

Box 3, Folder 5

Miles, Josephine 1982

Box 3, Folder 6

Mulholland, Catherine. Includes manuscript and typescript letters from Mulholland to Ellingham 1984

Box 3, Folder 7

Navarro, Armando 1983

Box 3, Folder 8

Parkinson, Thomas 1982

Box 3, Folder 9

Persky, Stan. Includes typescript letters and waiver sent to Persky by Ellingham 1983

Box 3, Folder 10

Primack, Ron. By telephone from San Francisco to New Orleans; includes typescript and manuscript letters between Ellingham and Primack 1982

Box 4, Folder 1

Ryan, John Allen 1982

Box 4, Folder 2

Sawyer, Jess. Recorded remarks sent to Ellingham by Sawyer 1983

Box 4, Folder 3

Spicer, Holt. Recorded remarks sent to Ellingham by Spicer; also includes correspondence between Ellingham and Spicer 1983

Box 4, Folder 4-6

Stanley, George 1982 - 1984

Box 4, Folder 7

Stiles, Knute 1982

Box 4, Folder 8-9

Wixman, Myrsam 1982



Box 5, Folder 1-3

Blaser, Robin 1983

Box 5, Folder 4-5

Borregaard, Ebbe and Joanne Kyger. Recto of second cassette contains part two of Harold Dull interview 1982

Box 5, Folder 6-7

Brodecky, A. W. 1982

Box 5, Folder 8-9

Chugg, Gail 1982

Box 5, Folder 10

Chugg, Gail. Includes monologue by Chugg on Jack Spicer 1982

Box 5, Folder 11

Connor, Bob 1982

Box 5, Folder 12-13

Coren, Harry Z., M.D. 1987

Box 5, Folder 14

Duerden, Richard 1982

Box 5, Folder 15

Dull, Harold. Sides 3 and 4 only; side 2 is on recto of Borregaard-Kyger cassette; side 1 is on recto of Myrsam Wixman cassette 1982

Box 5, Folder 16-17

Duncan, Robert 1983

Box 6, Folder 1

Duncan, Robert 1983

Box 6, Folder 2

Dunn, Joe 1986

Box 6, Folder 3

Everson, Landis 1983

Box 6, Folder 4

Fabian, Gerald 1982

Box 6, Folder 5-6

Fagin, Larry 1983

Box 6, Folder 7-8

Field, Thomas. Part 1 of the interview with Parkinson is on the recto side of the second tape 1982

Box 6, Folder 9-10

Frost, Nemi 1987

Box 6, Folder 11

Herndon, Fran 1982

Box 6, Folder 12-13

Herndon, James 1982

Box 6, Folder 14-16

Kearney, Larry 1982

Box 6, Folder 17

Loewinsohn, Ronald 1982

Box 7, Folder 1-2

Mackintosh, Graham 1983

Box 7, Folder 3

McNeill, Bill 1982

Box 7, Folder 4

Meltzer, David 1983

Box 7, Folder 5

Miles, Josephine. Recto side contains part two of Parkinson interview 1982

Box 7, Folder 6

Mulholland, Catherine 1984

Box 7, Folder 7

Navarro, Armando. This tape was hand-edited by Ellingham while making it, and consequently it contains several discontinuities; the Englishman speaking on side 3 is Peter Wigham 1983

Box 7, Folder 8

Navarro, Armando 1983

Box 7, Folder 9-10

Persky, Stan 1983

Box 7, Folder 11

Primack, Ron 1982

General note

Done on the telephone
Box 7, Folder 12-13

Ryan, John Allen. A portion of part two was inadvertently recorded over with part six by Ellingham 1982

Box 7, Folder 14

Sawyer, Jess. Recorded by Sawyer 1983

Box 7, Folder 15

Spicer, Holt 1983

Box 7, Folder 16-17

Stanley, George 1982

Box 8, Folder 1-2

Stanley, George 1982

Box 8, Folder 3-4

Stiles, Knute 1982

Box 8, Folder 5-6

Wixman, Myrsam. Part one of Harold Dull interview on recto of second tape 1982

Box 8, Folder 7-8

Spicer, Jack. "Poetry and Politics" 1965

Box 8, Folder 9-13

Spicer, Jack. Vancouver lecture



Scope and Content of Series

2) OTHER WRITERS' FILES: 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.
Box 9, Folder 1

FitzGerald, Russell. An excerpt from his diary, given to Ellingham by Dora FitzGerald 1957 - 1960


Duncan, Robert

Box 9, Folder 2

Spicer's writings: Poems of Jack Spicer, collected and copied by Duncan

Box 9, Folder 3

Spicer's writings: Miscellaneous writings by Spicer, collected and copied by Duncan

Box 9, Folder 4

Spicer's writings: Miscellaneous materials and correspondence

Box 9, Folder 5

Duncan's writings on Spicer: Manuscript notes on Spicer's poetry given to Ellingham 1983

Box 9, Folder 6

Duncan's writing on Spicer: Essay fragments on Jack Spicer -- includes two pages from the Preface to Don Allen's One Night Stand, Preface to a Spicer bibliography and an explanatory note on the material by Ellingham

Box 9, Folder 7

"Robert Duncan on Spicer" essay by Duncan; includes Duncan's annotations

Box 9, Folder 8

From Spicer to Duncan (manuscript and typescript letters) 1947 - 1965

Box 9, Folder 9

Correspondence from Spicer to others, collected by Duncan

Box 9, Folder 10

Duncan's manuscript notes on Spicer's letters

Box 9, Folder 11

To Duncan about Spicer's death 1965

Box 9, Folder 12

Article and obituary about Spicer's death 1965

Box 9, Folder 13

Advertisement for Spicer's book, The Heads of the Town Up to the Aethor 1962

Box 9, Folder 14

List of unidentified photographic prints and postcards



Scope and Content of Series

3) SPICER CIRCLE PAPERS: 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.

Correspondence to Ellingham About his Book

Box 9, Folder 15

Alexander, James 1982 - 1983

Box 9, Folder 16

Alexander, Paul 1982 - 1985

Box 9, Folder 17

Allen, Don M. 1983

Box 9, Folder 18

Berkson, Bill 1983

Box 9, Folder 19

Black Sparrow Press, (John Martin, editor) 1986

Box 9, Folder 20

Blaser, Robin 1983 - 1984

Box 9, Folder 21

Boone, Bruce 1983

Box 9, Folder 22

Borregaard, Ebbe 1983

Box 9, Folder 23

Bottone, Gary 1984

Box 9, Folder 24

Bowering, George 1983 - 1984

Box 9, Folder 25

Butterick, George 1984

Box 9, Folder 26

Capilano Review 1985

Box 9, Folder 27

Chamberlain, Lori 1983

Box 9, Folder 28

Conjunctions, (Bradford Morrow, editor) 1984 - 1985

Box 9, Folder 29

Credences, (Robert Bertholf, editor) 1983 - 1985

Box 9, Folder 30

Creeley, Robert 1983 - 1984

Box 9, Folder 31

Davidson, Michael 1983 - 1984

Box 9, Folder 32

Diaman, Nikkos A. 1982 - 1984

Box 9, Folder 33

FitzGerald, Dora 1982 - 1984

Box 9, Folder 34

Foye, Raymond 1985

Box 10, Folder 1

Goodwin, Jack F. 1981 - 1985

Box 10, Folder 2

Granger, John 1984 - 1985

Box 10, Folder 3

Green, Mark 1983

Box 10, Folder 4

Haimsohn, George

Box 10, Folder 5

Haselwood, Dave 1984

Box 10, Folder 6

Ironwood, (Michael Cuddihy, editor) 1985

Box 10, Folder 7

Johnston, Alistair 1984

Box 10, Folder 8

Lansing, Gerrit

Box 10, Folder 9

Levertov, Denise 1984

Box 10, Folder 10

Mulholland, Catherine (Kate) 1983

Box 10, Folder 11

O'Hara, Frank. Letter sent by O'Hara to Jasper Johns; given to Ellingham by Don Allen 1959

Box 10, Folder 12

Parkinson, Thomas 1984

Box 10, Folder 13

Persky, Stan. Includes copy of "Moss" 1961

Box 10, Folder 14

Rumaker, Michael 1983

Box 10, Folder 15

Ryan, John Allen 1982

Box 10, Folder 16

Sagetrieb / Paideuma 1985

Box 10, Folder 17

Schelling, Andrew 1984

Box 10, Folder 18

Spicer, Holt V. 1983 - 1986

Box 10, Folder 19

Spicer, Jack. Final letters sent to him before his death 1965

Box 10, Folder 20

Sulfur, (Clayton Eshleman, editor) 1985

Box 10, Folder 21

Wah, Fred 1983

Box 10, Folder 22

Wolfe, Michael 1983

Box 10, Folder 23

ZZYZZYVA, (Howard Junker, editor) 1985

Box 10, Folder 24

Miscellaneous correspondence, A-Z



Box 10, Folder 25

White Rabbit Press, Bibliographic History of. Compiled by Alistair Johnston 1957 - 1965

Box 10, Folder 26

Legal release forms (tape waivers) 1983 - 1985

Box 10, Folder 27

List of paintings related to the Spicer scene. Compiled by Ellingham 1956 - 1965

Box 10, Folder 28

Miscellaneous ephemera

Box 10, Folder 29

White Rabbit Symposium and Jack Spicer Conference, Schedule of events 1986 - 1986


POET BE LIKE GOD (Typescript)

Scope and Content of Series

4) POET BE LIKE GOD TYPESCRIPT: An early version of the first six chapters of Ellingham's book, as well as the complete 1984 version (thirty-six chapters).
Box 10, Folder 30

Chapters 1-6. Early copy of the text

Box 11, Folder 1-6

Chapters 1-23. Final version

Box 12, Folder 1-2

Chapters 24-36. Final version