Adelle Foley


Jack's life, like his art, is based in collage. He welcomes unorthodox combinations of everything from food to music, from friends to clothing—and urges them enthusiastically on those around him. Living with Jack is a lifelong, year-round course of study with no boundaries and no written exams.
  Like nobody else
His passions stretch and challenge
What “everyone knows”


When Jack finishes sharing an enthusiasm with new acquaintances they often ask if he is a teacher. The question is not as simple as it seems. The answer is yes. But not a college professor (which is what the asker often means). Jack left the academy when he stopped working on a PhD at UC Berkeley, choosing Charles Olson over Shakespeare critics.

In fact, Jack teaches constantly. His knowledge of poetry and much other literature is extraordinary and he can quote a wide variety of poetry from Chaucer to Robert Duncan. He’s regularly finding new enthusiasms in many arts and introducing these new artists to his friends, email acquaintances, through his radio show and to those he encounters at restaurants, in line at the post office or at his acupuncturist’s office. When he responds strongly to a new experience his instinct is to bring the experience to others, to share his pleasure and change their lives, as well, even if they have little knowledge of his subject matter. Advances in technology have expanded the range of his teaching. Texts can be emailed. Music, movies and other videos can be copied and given to friends. They can experience George M. Cohan or Georges Brassens by clicking a link sent out on email.

Jack’s enthusiasms range well beyond literature. Most recently he discovered Nong Thon, a Vietnamese restaurant. He began bringing friends to the restaurant, and many have become fans, posted photos on their web sites and written about their experience there. A while earlier he encountered the new Catholic cathedral in Oakland, near Lake Merritt. He has given his tour of the building -- featuring wood and light -- to a variety of friends, without regard to their religious beliefs.

When I met Jack, many years ago, his primary enthusiasms included Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil, William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound. They remain in the pantheon, but it grows constantly. Jack’s interests are too numerous to list. But to give some idea of the range I’ll mention the Golden Gate Quartet gospel singers, Chaplin movies, old radio’s Elliott and Kathy Lewis, the tap dancing Nicolas brothers, artist Jess, and Gertrude Stein.

Our son, Sean, has inherited Jack’s tendencies, although he is a college professor. The two of them exchange and expand on new interests and information in an ongoing conversation, sometimes from a distance of 15 time zones.

One aspect of Jack’s teaching is our performance of his poetry. I’ve been performing with Jack for over twenty-five years. He writes the poems; the collaboration is in the presentation. We have a couple of signature pieces, “standards,” like “Overture: Chorus,” also known as “hummingbird,” and “Chorus: SON(G).” Before we first presented them, we rehearsed a lot and we even recorded them. Jack may read parts of a piece to give me an idea of how he hears it. Then he will assign lines or phrases to each of us and indicate words to be spoken together, as a round or two texts to be performed at the same time. I may make suggestions on aspects of a newer choral piece and I’m responsible for synchronizing the timing when we are performing different texts. Audiences, particularly musicians, react well to choral pieces. It’s a new idea that wakes them up, but the work is noisy, and some people resist the sound. More recently, Jack began writing short plays and we’ve been performing them as well. These allow me to show that I’m something of a ham. When we first started, I was nervous about performing my husband’s work, getting it right. But performing the choral pieces and plays is exciting. Sometimes they’re challenging, but Jack is really good at presenting poetry orally and I love working with him, the way we sound, and the feedback we get from people.

When Jack learns something
He needs others to share his

  —Adelle Foley

[“Enthusiasm”: “possessed by a god,” “having a god within”]