cover image David's Copy: Selected Poems

David's Copy: Selected Poems

David Meltzer, , edited by Michael Rothenberg. . Penguin, $28 (263pp) ISBN 978-0-14-303618-0

A founding Beat, who worked side-by-side with Ginsberg on jazz-fueled verbal improvisation and Jewish mysticism and exegesis in verse, the California-based Meltzer has enjoyed a cult reputation since the late '50s. This selection from 30 books of poems reveals a writer of contagious, sprawling enthusiasm. Describing his early years, Meltzer recalls Ginsberg: "a bar-mitzvah of hopelessness in the Waldorf Cafeteria, hungering for the chance to detonate New York." Verse sketches of his household, wife and daughters suggest a talkier Gary Snyder. And in later, incantatory works to and about a mother goddess, the Hebrew alphabet, the Biblical Asaph ("David's chief musician"), or the composer Maurice Ravel, Meltzer simply sounds like a man possessed. "O sister let me plant you," one poem asks; "Let me love/ like green light shining through plants." Another finds the poet "Bruised before Yahweh—singing blues via crank-up gramophone—sand-blasted disc—racket of decoded time." Toward the end of the volume, longer poems speed through jazz history and current events. "Beat Thing" describes the year 1945; "No Eyes" covers the career of the saxophonist Lester "Prez" Young, his "chance & changes/ too marvelous for words." Meltzer has also edited books about jazz, San Francisco and the Beats; his undeniable passion makes him a poet Beat compleatists should treasure. (Oct.)