David Meltzer at home in Oakland with Lost & Found, Series III
It is with great sorrow that I am sending news of the death of dear friend and guiding light David Meltzer, poet, musician, songwriter, interviewer, editor, and sage. David had a massive stroke at the beginning of the week and was able to come home for hospice care to be with his wife Julie Rogers, family, and friends. Married in 2011, they brought great joy to each other in their few years together.
David passed away this morning at 3:37 a.m. My closeness to him seemed to transcend the normal means of communication as I was reading two of his 1959 poems dedicated to John Wieners a few hours before I got news of the stroke from Julie. Last night I dreamt that we were on the phone together and I was telling him about some new books and then we simultaneously realized new books didn’t really matter anymore and we both started laughing like crazy. In the morning, I got news of his passing, leaving us and this world, as Julie wrote, “like a feather floating in the sky.”
David Meltzer was born in Rochester, NY, in 1937, but the family moved to Brooklyn in 1940. At the age of 11, he wrote his first poem, on the NYC subway system. He was a child prodigy and performed on radio and tv. When his parents separated, he accompanied his father to Los Angeles where he would meet Wallace Berman and other luminaries. In 1957 he moved to San Francisco and continued to live in the Bay Area from then on. The youngest poet included in Donald M. Allen’s landmark 1960 anthology, The New American Poetry, David was also a musician and, with his beloved first wife Tina, had a group called Serpent Power. His music, along with various other things, can be accessed on his “official” web site: http://meltzerville.com
David’s work encompassed many things: in addition to his poetry and music, he compiled two absolutely essential and polemical resources: Reading Jazz and Writing Jazz, a display of both his encyclopedic and transcendent spirit. His book of interviews with West Coast poets, San Francisco Beat, remains an essential resource for understanding late 20th c. US culture. His radical Jewish magazine TREE prefigured the Jewish renewal movement and many other developments. And his extraordinary “agit-smut” Agency Trilogy explored power relationships between the sexes at the height of the war in Vietnam. The mutual admiration club that passes for the critical establishment in this country never even deigned to nod in his direction, though he did win an American Book Award from the great Before Columbus Foundation. In addition, along with Robert Duncan, Diane di Prima, Duncan McNaughton, and Louis Patler, David was one of the core faculty at the unique Poetics program at San Francisco’s New College.
David was a Lost & Found Fellow and came to the Graduate Center a number of times. He spoke in classes, did readings and a round table, and performed with musician Marty Ehrlich. He touched everyone he met with his generosity, unflappable humor, and searing spirit. He stayed in touch with students who were interested and, happily, one of our own, Meira Levinson, had a chance to spend time with him this summer while on a Lost & Found research stipend. We don’t quite yet know what form it will take, but David’s legacy will certainly be represented in our work at Lost & Found.