Fiction. An established writer from an Eastern college returning to his former San Francisco haunts becomes entangled in a labyrinthine series of events that culminate in the sudden violent death of a respected poet. Described by Lewis Ellingham and Kevin Killian as "a satiric look at the private world of poetry gone public in the wake of the Six Gallery HOWL reading of October, 1955," THE TOWER OF BABEL includes finely detailed sketches of the San Francisco poetry world and gay life as they existed then.
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It is the late 1950s. John James Ralston, an academic and poet living in Boston, returns to the San Francisco he left seven years ago, a copy of Partisan Review under his arm (it contains a review of his first book). He wants to take risks, to make poetry exciting again. In his first encounter with so-called Beat poets his magazine is torn up and he is presented with a poem in the mouth of a fish; later, one of the poets Ralston has encountered is found dead, apparently from a fall off his fire escape. This unfinished, posthumous potboiler would stand a better chance of finding an audience were it not billed as detective fiction. There is little of the action or tension readers expect from the genre, and the element of amateur detectives seeking clues that will lead them further astray does not enter until late in the book. The writing is flat, and Ralston's repetitive self-analysis (he's also married to a psychiatrist) is hardly insightful. But most disappointing is the unfocused prose. Spicer (1925-1965) was not only a major figure in the San Francisco Renaissance of the late '50s and early '60s, he was one of the most powerful and innovative poets of his time.
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