I ve been reading and writing poetry albeit sporadically for about 50 years, and I have to admit two things 1 I ve always liked poets than poetry and 2 I ve not often read any book of poems cover to cover, although I m proud to have completed the epics Iliad, Odyssey, Diving Comedy, Paradise Lost I have, however, read When I Was a Poet all the way through That being said, it seems the poets I ve most loved we re all born in the mid to late thirties, have almost all been associated with the Beat Generation and or the San Francisco Renaissance, with a few East Coasters, Black Mountain folks, and international all stars thrown in for good measure, and are a dying breed I think I can name McClure, Ferlinghetti, Ed Sanders, Anne Waldman, Jerry Rothenberg, Snyder, David Meltzer, and not many others as being above ground, and producing though not producing all that much I loved the poets because they were the wild men and women of letters All eventually mellowed, but they were and a few still are explorers of cosmic consciousness, heroes who brought us the news yawpers, they ve been called, who pulled very few punches, were impolite and impolitic, and who actually believed in something than tenure, or the dainty tea cups of refined sensation I loved them for their wild personas, their wild lives and politics, and their wild poems They were the pre MFA generation.
David Meltzer was on my top poets list because of the depths of Jewish mystic thought, and eroticism he brought to his work, so I was thrilled when City Lights published his latest as 60 in the Pocket Poets Series This review is my first take four stars mean, according to the goodreads scheme, really like it, and I do It s true to an unvarnished, but not unsophisticated form it appears simple in structure but contains the depths of first thought, best thought, mixed with precision that must come from rewriting and it deals with life and death as though both matter What it s not, thank God, is New Yorker or Atlantic Monthly material I m prepared to live with this book for awhile and have it end up in the goodreads five star firmament of amazing Meltzer is a scrappy poet, and this is a scrappy book, and that s how I like my poetry.
A Milestone In City Lights History, David Meltzer S When I Was a Poet Is Number Sixty Of The Famous Pocket Poets Series The Title Work Is An Ambitious Late Masterpiece From A Legendary Poet At The Height Of His Powers, A Spiritual Assessment Of The Meaning Of A Lifetime Of Writing Poetry Also Included Are Reminiscences Of California Bohemian Life, A Series Of Mystical Amulets, And Profound Meditations On Love, Loss, Aging, And Death Associated With The Beat Generation And Late S Psychedelia, Musician, Novelist, And Editor David Meltzer Is One Of America S Foremost Living Poets Meltzer Is A Prolific Poet Of Many Modes And Voices, Quite A Few Of Which Are Here, Love Poems, Poems Out Of Childhood, A Series Of Amulets, Cryptic Short Wisdom Poems, And Much These Are All Tasty, Often Ironic And Or Mysterious, Pieces Of Davidness To Be Savored Richard Silberg, Poetry Flash David Meltzer 1937 , a noted Beat Poet, musician and long time San Francisco resident, moved to the city by the Bay in 1957, after he read two notable Beat poetry collections, Lawrence Ferlinghetti s Pictures of the Gone World , published in 1955, and Allen Ginsberg s Howl , which was released the following year He befriended the two men, and also began to write poetry and fiction He also played jazz guitar in the late 1950s and early 1960s, then became a part of the San Francisco rock scene in the middle of the decade, hosting jam sessions with artists such as David Crosby and Jerry Garcia He later joined the psychedelic band Serpent Power, whose self titled album was proclaimed one of the best of the Summer of Love by Rolling Stone.
Despite his prolific output, When I Was a Poet is the first collection to be published by City Lights, which was released in 2011 as part of its Pocket Poets Series The poems highlight the bohemian life of Meltzer, Ginsberg and their friends in 1950s San Francisco, with a style that favors but does not mimic that of his contemporaries Meltzer, still active in his mid 70s, also writes about his life, and those close to him he has loved and lost, along with mid century bebop and modern jazz, such as this tribute to legendary saxophonist Art Pepper Art s desire to get it all saidto all who thought him deadin the joint beside the pointArt s struggle to sing it allthrough jazz warfare telleverything he knew in brassspeed rap stir crazy utopiaof muscle chops push it in your facerough unrelenting gracefierce Art pitbull clamps downpulls edges out in time to break throughscream knotty beautytoe to toe w any joewho thinks they know betterArt tattoos blue needles into moonlight skinjunk light makes mirrors perfectArt s smoke aches out of woundsL.
A Art burritos bebopblack guacamole serge zootsCentral Avenue cat coppingPepper at Club Alabamin Lee Young s bandall the chicks the hatcheck chickhave big eyes for Art s hornThese poems, particularly California Dreamin , are enjoyable to read However, like most Beat poetry, they are best appreciated in a smoky club or cozy bookstore, preferably with the backing of a jazz bassist or small ensemble I missed seeing Meltzer read from this book at City Lights last year, but I hope to be able to catch him live in performance during a future trip to San Francisco.
I started reading this a long time ago, when it was gifted to me by a friend, but as I was able to see by the notes I had made on a bookmark within the book, I was not in the right place at the time But today I was.
There are some beautiful poems here Particularly the title poem, California Dreamin , Cupped, Tarzan yodeled , and my favorite, Jewelbox The experience was somewhat enhanced by reading it on a sunny day on my sidewalk as vacuum salesmen and prostitutes both tried to earn their living.
I enjoyed this collection from Meltzer s work Some of the whimsical elements, his use of humor and rhyme mostly, remind me of Syd Barrett s, or at least I was frequently reminded of Syd while reading these poems I understand that David was a musician and was in a band in the sixties I often wondered how much the process of songwriting influenced his poetry, and vice versa There s still a feeling of psychedelic 60 s in the poems, but so much than that These poems deal with life and death, huge topics.
The first few segements I especially loved, full of heart and nostalgia Also brave and harrowing, the poems about Tina, I was kind of in awe of that bravery in the face of real loss and pain, but Meltzer still believes in words, word combinations, and how words reveal unexpected truths, can tear down the veils Because of this he still feels like a Beat, his faith is still intact That s something to celebrate i reckon.
i absolutely loved the title poem.
i love the lines When I was a PoetEverything was Possiblethere wasn t Anythingthat wasn t Poetry unfortunately the rest of the poems didn t grab me in the same way as this one, though am sure that is my fault and not Meltzer
Fecund, mystical, jazzy, and always exuberant Meltzer deserves the same recognition proffered to the better known beat poets based off of this collection alone The brisk pace of the book, coupled with a smattering of novel ideas, pushed me to the end in the course of two sittings I may not have internalized made sense of everything said, but like all great works this demands rereading.
An erudite man with interests that range from Jewish mysticism to jazz, Meltzer is anything but bookish He writes quick, wry poetry, embedded with wisdom, his short lines delivered in a dancing street vernacular that gathers force as it uncovers fresh discoveries The San Francisco Chronicle