From My Commonplace Book - 29

Berkeley in the Time of Plague

by Jack Spicer

Plague took us and the land from under us,
Rose like a boil, enclosing us within.
We waited and the blue skies writhed awhile
Becoming black with death.

Plague took us and the chairs from under us,
Stepped cautiously while entering the room
(We were discussing Yeats); it paused awhile
Then smiled and made us die.

Plague took us, laughed, and reproportioned us,
Swelled us to dizzy, unaccustomed size.
We died prodigiously; it hurt awhile
But left a certain quiet in our eyes.

Jack Spicer (American, 1925-1965) was an important figure in the gay literary community and the San Francisco Renaissance. He disdained publishing, and his work was not well-known outside his circle of friends. "Berkeley in Time of Plague" can be found in My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer, which won the American Book Award in 2009.


had only vaguely heard of this guy, Merry; thanks for putting something gay-affirmative on ur blog!Love Steve
Hi, Steve.

When I read a poem by Jack Spicer in Harper's Magazine a couple of years ago, I was so intrigued, I asked the library to order My Vocabulary Did This to Me. In that collection I found a number of poems that I liked very much and copied in my commonplace book. Now those poems are mine forever.

Jack Spicer's career as a research linguist ended at the University of California , Berkeley, when he refused to sign the loyalty oath stating he was not a Communist. He saw the oath as as a threat to liberty in society at large and to the intellectual freedom of the university. I don't know enough about him and his work to know for sure, but perhaps this poem refers to that experience.
Might be Merry. I knew well the "communist" hunters during my days at the University of Capetown - we were all supposed to be in the times of apartheid. The situation not too dissimilar.
We meet again, Enid.

Interesting that you were at the University of Capetown. "Communist" hunters, apartheid. You must have stories.

What a strange time, the Cold War. The paranoia and the threat of the label of communist as a means of social control. For example, people who agitated for racial equality in the US were called communists.

And you have reminded me that to receive financial aid to attend university, I had to sign a paper saying I was not a communist. I resented being asked, but I did sign. Otherwise I could not have had a chance for that education. I feel rather ashamed now, though, thinking about my complicity.
Not a lot I could do at Capetown Uni either Merry amidst the awful politics. But having been picked up by the police for innocently filming for a project on the main line station (presumably they thought I was up to no good) the paranoia restricted and frightened. A plague indeed.

Looking forward to more flowers from your gardens.

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