Pip Benveniste. Energy 3, to salute David's own amazing energy, come what may. 2005.
Copy for David
When Michael Rothenberg suggested I take over the editing of a tribute to our friend David Meltzer on the occasion of the publication of his latest selected poems, David's Copy (New York: Penguin Books, 2005), I confess that I didn't know where to start. Nor was I certain that David would welcome the attention. "Say what you like about the work -- but leave me out of it!" seemed the likely response. But to our great relief, he didn't reject the project, once he understood that we were planning a Festschrift -- a party to write home about -- and not a memorial. While maintaining agnostic distance, David even produced a list of possible contributors, to which Michael and I added our own lists. We cast the net wide -- and hauled in the catch.
The result is a tribute to David Meltzer from forty-odd friends, colleagues, students, and admirers -- "an offering ... manifesting respect, allegiance, gratitude, or affection," as Webster's Third would have it. Given David's lifelong devotion to the principal activities of Reading, Writing, and Talking, it's small wonder that his ever expanding circles of affinity would include poets, writers, scholars, artists, and musicians from scenes that sometimes intersect only through him, with stops at Brooklyn, the L.A. Renaissance, the San Francisco Renaissance, the Beat Thing, the love-in, the current post- or pre-something era ...
Many remark on David's encyclopedic knowledge, and everyone is struck by his ability to suggest at least a couple of books on whatever subject is under discussion. He's not a whiz kid, though: his personal encyclopedia is always in the service of poetry -- of poetry as a way of apprehending the world. If David's imagination is darkened by cinematic shadows of the Nazi death camps and the mushroom clouds of the American A-bomb, it also encompasses left politics, Jewish mysticism, the memory of working-class culture, the implanted memories of pop culture, the findings and leavings of classical traditions, and music -- whatever's playing but jazz above all. Reach and inclusion.
David's breadth and depth of culture make for great conversation, whether over the café table or in the classroom at New College of California, where he's taught in the Poetics program for many years. Reading his many books of poetry, the agit-smut novels of The Agency, and his important anthologies, Reading Jazz and Writing Jazz gives one only a hint of what it is to talk with the man. Perhaps his San Francisco Beat: Talking with the Poets comes closest to presenting the sympathetic, enthusiastic, critical, generous, often very funny and sometimes grumpy qualities of David-for-the-ear.
That book includes a dozen interviews with poets associated with the San Francisco Renaissance, including a classic one with Kenneth Rexroth, who brought the modern world to the city. Deft arm twisting persuaded David himself to submit to an interview (conducted by his friend and former student Christopher Winks), and this is one place to find many of the pertinent and impertinent biographical facts, should they be needed. Poems, excerpts from books, and reviews can be found online at the Electronic Poetry Center.
All the people that are found herein are tributaries on this occasion, this fest. The treasure laid out for your enjoyment includes reminiscences of times together, poems-inspired-by, critical appreciations, a painting, before-and-after photographs, translations-inspired-by, tips of the hat ... You will also find a Serpent Power audio track, "Endless Tunnel," video clips from the fall 2005 reading by David's friends at New College, and a complete bibliography -- as well as a selection of David's own drawings and reproductions of the covers of many of his books. Pleasure's the only rule here: we fling the doors open.
Michael Rothenberg and I wish to thank Terri Carrion for her virtual page design and Jonathan Penton for his skill, talent, and hard work in assembling the Web site for this issue of Big Bridge. Thanks are also due to Danielle Grilli for her editorial assistance. And we are grateful to Steve Dickison for forwarding drawings by David Meltzer.