May 20, 2011

Palimpsest 11

Palimpsest, i.e., a parchment from which one writing has been erased to make room for another.” H. D.

“It was a magic process.” Fran Herndon

Jack Spicer and Fran Herndon, poet and painter, were the best of friends. When they first met, Fran hadn’t started painting yet. As she got to know Jack, she turned that corner.

San Francisco, 1959 to ’60, it was a most exciting time for the pair. Spicer was working on “Homage to Creeley,” an amazing series of poems that became a sequence in Heads of the Town up to the Aether. Jack would come over to Fran and Jim Herndon’s place in the evening and read the new poems to them. During the day Fran would walk up to the San Francisco Art Institute and create the beautiful, mysterious lithographs that would be in the book with the poems. Here’s what she says about their work together in the (fantastic!) Spicer biography, Poet Be Like God: Jack Spicer and the San Francisco Renaissance (Lewis Ellingham & Kevin Killian).

“Sometimes it was reaching, but he knew that there was some connection in [my] work and what he was writing. It was as if at times it was prophetic (I mean he would never have expected that to happen) — and he was just ecstatic when he could see that connection. At times it surprised me, because I had no inkling of the poems that were preceding or coming after those lithos. He saw it as not in any way illustrating the poems, but just an interaction of some kind.”

I’d read the astonishing “Homage to Creeley” in Spicer’s Collected Books but hadn’t seen the set with Fran’s lithos. By chance, I found Heads of the Town up to the Aether in a used bookstore in San Francisco. It had been published by the Auerhahn Press in 1962. On the fly leaf, written in ink, was the name of its first owner, John Allen Ryan, dated San Francisco 1962 and, penciled in by hand, “founder 6 Gallery, close friends with Spicer & RD, poet & artist, White Rabbit author.”



Damn them,

All of them,

That wear beards on the soles of their feet

That ride cars

That aren’t


It comes with a rush

And a gush

Of feeling

Everything is in the street

Then they meet

It with their automobiles.

Cegeste comes back to a big meeting with his personal fate. He lacks knowledge of the driver’s seat as did Cegeste, Creeley, and all of us. He intends to spend his fortune in banks, on the banks of some rivers. He will wreck their cars if he can have to. He.

From pages 42–43, Heads of the Town

Comments (2)

  • John Allen Ryan was an old family friend, poet, artist, and one of the Six Gallery founders. He kept in touch with my mom, Skippy, & me until his death. He also led private & group excursions of the Sierra Mountains. We had many semi-regular North Beach dinners with an ever-changing number of the old NB family of friends. Ed Woods, Howard Delinsky, Spec, Jack Goodwin, George Gonsalves (my father), Joe Elias, Joe Humphries, Dino Petrucci, etc. The group of friends all treated me as their kid within their extended family. Mom used to sneak an underage Dino into Vesuvio’s. She worked as the waitress & George was the bartender at Vesuvio’s. The stories were magnificent & revealed to me the priceless tales of characters like Zekial Marko, Bob Kaufman, Jack Spicer, David Offenberg, Gordon Neal.

  • Interesting bit of San Francisco history from those times. I have heard stories from my Aunt and Father about S. F. in the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s.

    Good story, and especially this line: ” …but just an interaction of some kind.”

    …an interaction. That is what life is. It’s a simple enough explanation that works. The “interaction” can be many things, not all of them have a label in our language, or probably any spoken language other than a sound that could represent it, as every interaction is a new event, and so would need to have it’s own description which may not be done justice by labeling it with a word that is already in use…other than an “interaction”.

    a pen and a brush gather atoms
    when a rush of matter fathoms
    an interaction connects our souls
    satisfaction corrects our strolls

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