By Garrett Caples
Poet, musician, critic, novelist, editor, bookseller, and educator, David Meltzer is nothing less than a national treasure. Beginning as a child radio and TV performer in NYC in the late ’40s, and becoming a member of the circle of artists and writers around Wallace Berman and Semina as a young adult in the mid-’50s in L.A., Meltzer would go on to be the youngest inclusion in Donald Allen seminal anthology The New American Poets: 1945-1960 (Grove, 1960).
Known chiefly as a Beat/SF Renaissance poet—an associate of everyone from Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, and Allen Ginsberg to Gary Snyder, Joanne Kyger, and Michael McClure—Meltzer is also an accomplished musician, host of the legendary Monday night hootenannies at the Coffee Gallery—folk jam sessions attracting visitors like David Crosby as well as locals like the late Jerry Garcia—frontman of the psychedelic folk-rock group Serpent Power, whose eponymous 1967 Vanguard Records LP was named by Rolling Stone as one of the 40 best records of the Summer of Love.
He wrote 10 novels of what he calls “agit-smut” in the late ’60s and edited the kabbalistic poetry magazine Tree in the ’70s, along with numerous anthologies with themes like birth, death, the Beat Generation, and jazz. He was also a founding member of the New College of California poetics program, where he taught for many years. More recently, his selected poems, David’s Copy (2005), appeared from Penguin Books, while his latest collection, When I Was a Poet (2011), was selected by Lawrence Ferlinghetti as #60 in the City Lights Pocket Poets Series. City Lights is also reissuing his poetics manual, Two-Way Mirror, later this season.
David has performed so much service for American literary and musical culture but now, at age 77, he needs some help. A few weeks ago, his doctors discovered a cancerous tumor on his liver and he has just undergone an operation to have it removed. The operation went well and he hopes to return from the hospital today. So the prognosis is good, but even with health insurance, this unexpected medical crisis could prove financially catastrophic. As a disabled senior citizen with numerous health issues, surviving on social security with no pension due to the financial mismanagement and collapse of New College in 2008, David has been left essentially impoverished and the co-payments and assorted medical expenses pose a serious threat to his future well-being.
Fortunately, David’s friends have banded together to set up a fundraising drive on his behalf, through the online donation site giveforward.com. See David’s page to donate here. We’ve set a goal of $15,000 to take care of David’s medical expenses in the near- and medium-term. Please consider contributing to this fund-drive for one America’s hardest working and most accomplished poets.