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David Meltzer

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David Meltzer

David Meltzer
David Meltzer speaking at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center, Los Angeles.
Born (1937-02-17) February 17, 1937
Rochester, New York
Notable awards Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award, 2008

David Meltzer (born February 17, 1937) is an American poet and musician of the Beat Generation and San Francisco Renaissance. Lawrence Ferlinghetti has described him as "one of the greats of post-World-War-Two San Francisco poets and musicians."[1] Meltzer came to prominence with inclusion of his work in the anthology, The New American Poetry 1945-1960.


Early life

Meltzer was born in Rochester, New York, the son of a cellist and a harpist. In 1940, the family moved to Brooklyn. At the age of 11, he wrote his first poem, on the topic of the New York City subway system. He performed on radio and TV in The Horn and Hardart Children's Hour. The family moved once again to Rockville Centre. His parents separated, and he accompanied his father to Los Angeles in 1954. In 1957, he moved to San Francisco and became part of a circle of writers based around Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan.

In 1958, he recorded an album of his poems with a jazz combo for Jim Dickson on Dickson's Vaja label. The album was not released but finally saw the light of day in 2006 on Sierra Records titled "David Meltzer: Poet with Jazz 1958." Jim Dickson had earlier recorded Lord Buckley, Lenny Bruce and the Page Cavanaugh Trio. Later Jim would be A&R producer for World Pacific and Elektra Records as well as discovering and producing the rock group, the Byrds.

In 1968, David Meltzer signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.[2]


One of the key poets of the Beat generation, Meltzer is also a jazz guitarist, Cabalist scholar, and the author of more than 50 books of poetry and prose. 2005 saw the publication of David's Copy: The Selected Poems of David Meltzer (edited by Michael Rothenberg and with an introduction by Jerome Rothenberg), which provides a current overview of Meltzer's work.

Meltzer's Beat Thing (La Alameda Press) is his epic poem on the Beat generation. Jack Hirschman said of it: Meltzer's other books include, No Eyes, poems on Lester Young, and a book of interviews, San Francisco Beat: Talking with the Poets (City Lights Books).[3]

Meltzer taught at the New College of California in the Poetics Program,.[4] which was originally founded by Robert Duncan. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Published works


  • The Clown (Semina, 1960)
  • The Process (Oyez, 1965),
  • The Dark Continent (1967)
  • Round the Poem Box (1969)
  • Yesod (Trigram, 1969),
  • Greenspeech (1970)
  • Luna (Black Sparrow, 1970)
  • Hero/Lil (Black Sparrow, 1973)
  • Arrows: Selected Poetry, 1957-1992 (Black Sparrow Press, 1994)
  • No Eyes: Lester Young, (Black Sparrow, 2000)
  • David's Copy, (Penguin Group Press, 2005)
  • When I Was a Poet," (City Lights, June 2011) ISBN 978-0-87286-516-7


  • The Agency Trilogy (Brandon House, 1968; reprinted by Richard Kasak, 1994)
  • Orf (Brandon House, 1969; reprinted by Masquerade Books, 1995),
  • Under (Rhinoceros Books, 1997)


  • Two-Way Mirror: A Poetry Notebook (Oyez, 1977).
  • Two-Way Mirror: A Poetry Notebook (City Lights, 2015)


  • The Secret Garden: An Anthology in the Kabbalah (Continuum Press, 1976; reprinted, Station Hill Press, 1998)
  • Birth: Anthology of Ancients Texts, Songs, Prayers, and Stories (North Point Press, 1981)
  • Death: Anthology of Texts, Songs, Charms, Prayers, and Tales (North Point Press, 1984)
  • Reading Jazz (Mercury House, 1996)
  • Writing Jazz (Mercury House, 1999)
  • San Francisco Beat: Talking With the Poets (City Lights, 2001)


The Serpent Power

  • Serpent Power (Vanguard Records, 1968)

Tina & David Meltzer

  • Poet Song (Vanguard Records, 1969).

The Serpent Power/Tina & David Meltzer

  • Serpent Power/Poet Song (reissue, Comet/Akarma Records, 1996).


  1. ^ quoted in the back-cover blurb in the Penguin Selected Poems from 2005, David's Copy
  2. ^ “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” January 30, 1968 New York Post
  3. ^ "Poetry Flash Reading Series".  
  4. ^ "Biography of David Meltzer". City Lights. 

External links

  • Official Web Site
  • Works by or about David Meltzer in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • The David Meltzer Papers at Washington University in St. Louis
  • description, reviews and purchasing informationWhen I Was a Poet
  • by David MeltzerTwo-Way Mirror: A Poetry Notebook at City Lights Publishers
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