Spacks Leaves Legacy as First Poet Laureate of Santa Barbara, Remembered by Students for Liveliness, Insight

Santa Barbara’s first poet laureate and UCSB faculty member Barry Spacks died Tuesday, leaving a very personal and far-reaching impact upon the Santa Barbara community.

Spacks was a professor in the College of Creative Studies’ Literature department and English department in the College of Letters and Science for 32 years, positions he held after teaching literature at MIT from 1960 to 1981. Spacks’ ties to the local community include his time served as the first poet laureate of Santa Barbara between 2005 and 2007 and contributions to the column “Poetry Matters” in the city’s weekly news magazine, The Independent. He also published nine poetry collections.

Trevor Crown, a fourth-year CCS literature major, said Spacks’ teaching style was infused with a remarkable liveliness and imaginative insight.

“Barry found it so funny whenever there was a poop joke in Chaucer, so that’s the Barry I’ll always remember — the Barry laughing at poop jokes in Chaucer, at nine o’clock in the morning,” Crown said.

Crown studied the author under Spacks his freshman year and was impressed by his professor’s animated and accurate pronunciation of Middle English. As an “always smiling, incredibly kind human being,” Spacks made close connections with those around him, and influenced the worldview of his students, Crown said.

CCS literature lecturer Ellen O’Connell praised Spack’s dedication to participating in writing exercises, saying his respect for students emerged through these lessons.

“Barry infused everything he did with love. That is one small slice of the legacy he left us at CCS,” O’Connell said. “I am lucky to have known him as an undergraduate, and again as a fellow lecturer. If anyone can figure out a way to keep on after death, it is Barry.”

Chris Cubbison, a fourth-year literature major who took a reading and writing class his freshman year with Spacks as his professor, said he and other CCS students spent Wednesday talking about the late professor and his work.

“There was just this really great sense of youth within him, and every single time he read something it felt like my attention was just totally captured, there was nothing else I could really focus on,” Cubbison said.

According to Cubbison, Spacks greatly respected his students’ perspective and would complete writing exercises alongside them. In discussion, he conveyed a “great reverence for things,” Cubbison said, and managed to “find the poetics” in a wide variety of subjects.

While Spacks’ death is felt heavily amongst those who were influenced by him, Crown said much of their reflection has been in positive remembrance of the poets’ rich personality.

“Even though there’s a distinct sadness [amid] all of CCS right now — a kind of fog of grief surrounding the building and the college — there don’t seem to be any feelings of unfulfillment about Barry,” Crown said. “It seemed he had reached such a peace and such a joy in his life that it was a genuine inspiration to everyone that came into contact with him, regardless of to what the extent the contact was.”

Look for a special tribute by fellow CCS Literature facultymember Teddy Macker next Thursday, Feb. 6, in Artsweek.


A version of this story appeared on page 3 of Thursday, January 30, 2014’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.