spencer selby (1947 – 2018)



Spencer Selby, of Ames, IA., died Monday, April 2, 2018, at Mary Greeley Medical Center in Ames.

Spencer Selby was born on October 3, 1947 to Harriett H. (Kirkham) Selby and Herbert S. Selby in Iowa City, Iowa while his father was studying for his law degree at the University of Iowa. Raised in Newton, Iowa and graduated from Newton High School in 1965, Spencer went on to study political science and psychology at the University of Iowa, earning his degree in 1969. The social and political climate of the country at that time led to Spencer’s abandoning his pursuit of a second degree in law at the University of Iowa and moving to San Francisco, California in the late 70’s, where he lived for 30 years.

Spencer was a poet, artist and film historian. His film study yielded two seminal reference works: Dark City: The Film Noir (1984) and The Worldwide Film Noir Tradition (2013). He also authored nine poetry books, and five artist books in addition to the two reference works on film noir. His visual art emerged primarily as an abstraction of found source material uncovered in his film noir research. He stated of visual work, “In the parlance of today’s theory, my work is, has always been, pluralist. This interest in multi-specialties, including decades spent as a text poet, visual poet, and film historian, has given my art a broad spectrum of influences. My practice in each field has evolved in a nonlinear way, exploring different styles and developing techniques that eventually became what I would call an internalized methodology. The art has pronounced formal qualities and ranges from stylized or surreal representation to pure abstraction. The aim of my practice is to stimulate the viewer’s imaginative contemplation.” His visual poetry appeared in several group shows and publications. He was co-editor of the visual poetry magazine Score. And was a curating member of Glitch Artists Collective.

In the 1980’s Spencer started SINK Press, believed to be the first desktop published magazine of experimental poetry in America, which featured many key Language Poets. He followed this with a stint as coordinator of The Canessa Park Reading Series in North Beach (San Francisco) from 1987-93. He also performed readings of his work and presented slide shows in many North American and European cities. In 1993, he created The List of Experimental Poetry/Art Magazines, which endured online as an important source of information for innovative writers and artists around the world. Spencer relocated to Ames, Iowa in 2008, were he exhibited locally and concluded his second reference work on film noir..

Spencer is survived by his wife, Sara O’Meara of San Francisco, California, his brother, Kirk Selby of Newton, Iowa, and his sister, Martha Selby of Ames, Iowa. His friends and family believed that his gifts were rare, and his capacity to impact all who came into his sphere profound. They are deeply saddened by his passing.