In many ways the most beautiful of all the mimeo magazines, J had an eight-issue run. The first five issues were edited from North Beach bars by Jack Spicer with Fran Herndon as art editor. Spicer, who embodied the spirit of poetry in the Bay Area, collected pieces for his magazine from a box marked “J” in The Place, a bar at 1546 Grant Avenue in San Francisco. A refugee from Los Angeles with two degrees from Berkeley, he had been a student of Josephine Miles there in the mid-1940s. They became close friends, and Spicer participated in the Friday afternoon poetry readings in Wheeler Hall during the late 1940s as well as the readings organized with Rockefeller money at San Francisco State by Ruth Witt-Diamant at the new Poetry Center at San Francisco State.
Into the cauldron of poetic politics surrounding Miles, Kenneth Rexroth, Robert Duncan, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and others, Spicer introduced his freest of spirits, sometimes more Caliban than Ariel. Spicer lived for words (even making his living as a research assistant on a lexicographical project at Berkeley). He could be found most evenings in one of the North Beach bars or coffeehouses leading the discussion on poetry, poetics, myth, linguistics, and other mysteries. Like Blake and Yeats (with the help of Mrs. Yeats), Spicer attempted to clear his mind and open himself to “dictation” from other sources, which he devotedly pursued. Spicer also believed wholeheartedly in the necessity of human beings’ helping each other through communication, which he confronted in the editorship of J, a little newsletter of the poetic spirit. Donald Allen acted as J’s distributor in New York (“New York Contributions are not forbidden. But quotaed”), selling copies for Spicer to the Wilentz brothers of the Eighth Street Book Shop. In an early letter to Spicer, Allen eagerly wondered “what your editorial policy may be. Seduction by print.”
Jack Spicer listening to a baseball game on the radio at the beach at Plum Island, Newbury, Massachusetts, ca. 1958. Photograph by Kent Bowker.
“His parents were professional bridge players from Southern California.”
— Josephine Miles on Jack Spicer, from an unpublished manuscript in the collection of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley