Europe Fran Herndon met and married the teacher and writer James Herndon, and the couple moved to San Francisco in 1957. Shortly afterwards she met Jack Spicer, Robin Blaser, Robert Duncan and Jess-the brilliant crew that had invented the Berkeley Renaissance ten years earlier, four artists now all working at the height of their poetic powers in a highly charged urban bohemia. Fran Herndon was drawn to the most difficult of them all, Jack Spicer. When he announced one day that she should take up painting, she complied. "He saw in me," she recalls, "something greater than I saw in myself." Herndon enrolled her children in day care and herself at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) on Russian Hill in San Francisco. In the summer of 1959 she and Jack Spicer inaugurated a series of joint projects, beginning with their editorial work on the little magazine "J." Simultaneously they collaborated on "Homage to Creeley," each working independently and meeting weekly to share results. The synchronicities between Spicer's "Creeley" poems and Herndon's lithographs startled and enchanted them both. "He had found-or thought he had found-someone on his wavelength," Herndon explains. Spicer came to view this collaboration with the same fascination with which he viewed Dr. Rhine's famous ESP experiments at Duke University, and he published Herndon's lithographs in the Auerhahn edition of The Heads of the Town Up to the Aether, of which "Homage to Creeley" was the first part.
The work in Golemis the product of another collaboration between the two artists. In 1962 Herndon's painterly re-working of pop images cut from the pages of Sports Illustrated and other mass-market magazines was audacious; as the century draws to a close these collages still resonate with a rare power. Kabbalist legend tells us that the golem was constructed-as one might a collage?-from clay, twigs, rags and paper by Rabbi Loew, the Grand Rabbi of Prague, to assuage the suffering of his people in the 16th century. Spicer and Herndon draw on this complex legend to animate their conception of the athlete-and poet-as hero and monster, corpse and avenger. For these artists, the corruption of innocence under the nexus of capital is as simple as, and as confounding as, a "fix." Spicer's poems here continue the synchronic view of history he had propounded in The Holy Grail-the eerie and sometimes queasy feeling that all events occur at the same time. As in "Homage to Creeley," Spicer allowed the poetry he wrote while working with Herndon to grow flat, more literal, incantatory, till it approaches the emotionally numb. He depends on her images to bring to the joint work the fantastic and surreal with which he otherwise decorated his verse.
When I was assisting Fran Herndon in preparing her archive for sale in October 1997, we discovered the manuscript of Spicer's "Golem" poems in a dog-eared manila folder. The first poem in this series saw print-in the "Spicer issue" of Manroot-only because Lew Ellingham had copied it onto a brown paper bag after Spicer posted it on the wall of Gino & Carlo's bar. That it had any successors few guessed or knew. Two others appeared in a recent issue of Grand Street, and the series as a whole is first published here. We are grateful to Robin Blaser, the literary executor of Spicer's estate, for his enthusiastic cooperation in the making of this book.
-Kevin Killian 1998