Poetry News

At Open Space, Kevin Killian Talks to Artist Jo Ann Low, One of Spicer's First Students

By Harriet Staff

At Open SpaceJo Ann Low and Kevin Killian are in conversation. As he notes in the introduction, Low, a painter, is someone Killian has been trying to track down for years, for Low "had been one of [Jack] Spicer’s very first students while he was teaching at the San Francisco Art Institute." "She touched something deep in Spicer’s soul," continues Killian. From their eventual meeting, and conversation:

KK: I’d like to ask you about Spicer’s pedagogy. He interested Deborah Remington because he knew so much about everything. His classes weren’t only about poetry and writing. He would name a historical figure, maybe somebody who was alive at the time, like Winston Churchill. What was happening when Churchill was born? That thing of constantly moving backwards.

JAL: I don’t remember the specifics of his teaching, but it was intense.

KK: Remington recalled that he would ask you to focus on one date in history, say 1500 A.D., and the assignment would be: “Find out what was happening globally at that time. What was happening in China? What were people doing?” She told me that this policy of mapping outward opened her eyes up to say, Asia, and the great civilizations of the East. So she wound up going there.

JAL: To Japan and India as I recall. Deborah booked passage on a Japanese freighter. She was the only female passenger, and the sign on the door of the bathroom read “WOMAN.” In passing she mentioned being sick in India, lying on a mat in the street.

KK: How many students were in one of Spicer’s classes?

JAL: There must have been about twelve to fifteen students, Jack held his classes in the library, on the first floor right off the courtyard — which is probably not where the library is now. We were all kind of friends on top of it; it was really art world incest. [Laughter] One assignment from Jack’s class was reading a mid-book section in Ulysses. I hadn’t done the homework and he called on me for a comment. The previous night I had dreamt that my previous boyfriend, John Joyce, had crawled in my kitchen window and struck me atop the head with a drummer’s brush. After class Jack walked with me and suggested that it was James Joyce who had given me the brush. [Laughter]

Read on, of course, at Open Space!

Originally Published: December 12th, 2018