Well, we know who finally won that little point. After all, how many books criticizing the gender politics of the London Times do you see in bookstores? Too few, that's for sure. And so we see that, even though it might take a while, a big fat scholarly biography is necessary to make a big fat writer socially acceptable.
Why necessary? First, because grad students like to cite things. But also to keep us from getting too distracted by questions like "Did Samuel Beckett maintain one boil for a very long time or did many shorter-lived boils infest him in sequence?" That way we can enjoy the writer's work while we're reading it without worrying that we'll be left without something nasty to say about the writer at parties.
Lew Ellingham's and Kevin Killian's biography of Jack Spicer does its job well. It's a tough job, a dirty job, a thankless job. But, by Poet, they did it, as proven by the confused boredom of reviewers and the prickly offense of friends. As for myself, all my vulgar curiosities have been sated and put away for the winter, and I'm much the better for it.
For example, in their scattered publication history, Spicer's letters have almost never escaped tsks or worse over his bigotry, and the biography has only amplified the tsking.
But none of Spicer's expressions of racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, and homophobia went any farther than those of Henry James, T. S. Eliot, or Virginia Woolf -- at least not in their content. Nope, Spicer's bigotry receives special targeting because of the American lower-middle class language he used to express it.
Biographers and academics judge artists from the lower classes according to a level of socially-conscious saintliness that we don't expect upper class artists to bother with -- the poor aristocratic dears have so much more on their minds. And Spicer is insistently no saint or role model.
Sadly, try as Spicer and O'Hara might to pump their lower-middle-class and flightily-mobile (respectively) All-Americanisms into the withered practices of verbal art, you only have to move about ten inches away from the original sources for concepts to re-dessicate as thoroughly as Ursula Andress in She. Biographies and criticisms have their own professional dictions to maintain; how can a critic talk about "Poetry" and "Magic" without sounding like D. H. Lawrence or Billy Graham? Whereas the power of living magic (as opposed to spoiled power-hungry nostalgia for magic) is strictly limited, and its practice strictly mundane.
As Spicer wrote, "Plainly we are dealing with materials distorted from their original form." Which is why The House That Jack Built, the new collection of Jack Spicer lectures, makes such a perfect pepper shaker to the new Jack Spicer biography's salt. You read the biography and think, "Jeez, what a prize dope. He believed this magick-with-a-k crap, and never noticed that he actually spent just about all his spare time on dying." But then you go to the lectures and think, "Golly, he was this sharp and warm only a couple of weeks before he collapsed? And this poetic stuff actually sounds like something even us real down-to-earth folks might get stuck with. Why isn't everyone like this?" And then you can step right right back to the biography and get your answer. Great little couple.
The poems are their own thing.