Book by JACK GILBERT
The San Francisco Renaissance, that loose federation of poets and novelists who gathered in the Bay Area after World War II, is most famous for having organized the first public reading of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” (and thus given birth to the Beat Generation), but its influence was more far-reaching than that. It was also more varied. As with any renaissance, this one was cliquish, even factional: while Ginsberg cultivated his image as a twentieth-century Whitman and Kerouac descended from madcap literary celebrity to middle-aged alcoholism, a lesser-known group of near-surrealists gathered at the State College of San Francisco for a workshop called “Poetry and Magic.” Taught by Jack Spicer, the workshop combined a modernist aesthetic with elements of ‘theosophy,’ a strain of mysticism that, earlier in the century, had captured the imagination of William Butler Yeats. “Poetry and Magic” occasioned a kind of sub-renaissance (sometimes called ‘the Berkeley renaissance’), and it had a notable influence on a number of successful American poets, including the young Jack Gilbert, who died in mid-November at the age of eighty-seven. His Collected Poems were published in March, 2012, not long before his death.