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When I Was a Poet
     

When I Was a Poet

by David Meltzer
 

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

Overview

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 '60s 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 more. These are all tasty, often ironic and/or mysterious, pieces of Davidness to be savored . . . " — Richard Silberg, Poetry Flash

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Linked to the beats and to the 1950s-vintage confluence of poetry and jazz, Meltzer, in his first collection since the retrospective selection David's Copy (2005) and the long poem Beat Life (2005), keeps on looking back, understandably sad "To see us then/ resistant &/ glamorously young/ now dead or dying." Meltzer remembers "California dreamin" decades ago, when it seemed to him and his friends that "Utopia's just around the corner/ lodged beneath overpass freeway." Recollections of American artistic and musical history sit comfortably beside recollections of a rich inner life, in phrases that sound almost ritualized ("When I was a Poet/ Passion was a Wire/ plugged into Nerve Ends") and in the concluding, comic self-portrait. The deliberately nostalgic book design (a Pocket Poets series cover) perhaps emphasizes Meltzer's place in history to the detriment of his strongest new work, which is less interested in pathos than in a mysterious strength, convinced that "words work best when/ they know they can't." The short poems called "Amulets," in particular, rise above countercultural scene setting toward the empyrean of the early Ginsberg: "Sucking death from our mouths before we can sing/ This amulet wants wings to work against the King of nightfalling." (June)
From the Publisher

"With this primal book, David Meltzer takes his place among the great poets of his generation." — Lawrence Ferlinghetti

"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." — Bart Schneider, San Francisco Chronicle

"Meltzer's work has always been quirky, lyrical, and fresh with a self-respect that jumps right off the page and invites readers into the delight of expression." — Bloomsbury Review

"For Meltzer, the experience of being a poet is inextricable from the experience of the body in a way that is simultaneously physical and spiritual." — Julie Babcock, Rain Taxi

"Take a poet’s life work and distill it into pure essence—it will look like When I Was a Poet by David Meltzer (City Lights Books). Having fully lived, the Beat legend stands at the abyss and peers down (and back). In these poems we grow. 'Grow to know / Death’s musk / on the cusp.'

"These double-stressed lines are simple to the point of lift-off. In elegizing, chronicling, assessing, and questioning, Meltzer kindles the word pyre so we can see ourselves, naked and candle-smudged. He writes what the light has 'sewn together.' Here, hear, 'The poem angels sing, arising.'" — Jeffrey Cyphers Wright, The Brooklyn Rail

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780872865167
Publisher:
City Lights Books
Publication date:
05/31/2011
Series:
City Lights Pocket Poets Series , #60
Pages:
135
Sales rank:
911,193
Product dimensions:
4.80(w) x 6.10(h) x 0.50(d)

Meet the Author


Born in 1937, David Meltzer is a poet associated with both the Beat Generation and the San Francisco Renaissance. He was also included in Don Allen's seminal anthology, "The New American Poetry 1945-1960" A child prodigy, Meltzer performed on radio and TV in New York beginning in the late '40s. In 1957, after a few years in Los Angeles, where he was part of the circle around Wallace Berman's "Semina" magazine, Meltzer moved to San Francisco, where he associated with such poets as Allen Ginsberg, Robert Duncan, and Jack Spicer. One of the pioneers of jazz poetry readings, Meltzer also formed a psychedelic folk-rock group called Serpent Power with his wife Tina Meltzer and poet Clark Coolidge, recording for Vanguard Records in the late '60s. He continues to perform with the music and poetry review, Rockpile. In addition to his many books of poetry, Meltzer also published 10 erotic novels in the late '60s and early '70s, including the critically-acclaimed "Agency Trilogy," revisiting the genre in 1995 with "Under." He has edited many anthologies, including the book of interviews, "San Francisco Beat: Talking with the Poets" (City Lights, 2001). He also taught for many years in the poetics program at New College of California. In 2005, Penguin Books published "David's Copy: The Selected Poems of David Meltzer." Lawrence Ferlinghetti has called him "one of the greats of post-World-War-Two San Francisco poets and musicians."

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