David Meltzer


Beat Thing

160 pages

6 x 9 inches



During the late1950s, David Meltzer was an active poet in the San Francisco North Beach scene often reading with jazz musicians at various bars and coffeehouses. Beat Thing is part poetry and part exposé, both tribute to the down in the street wildness and rant against the romantic commodification which surrounds the Beat Generation. Invoking real people as real history, Meltzer takes aim at the fantasy which Beat has become and juxtaposes simultaneously its still-needed legacy. He brings forth the original spirit of Beat in a encyclopedic cascade of details whose dense, deep, fierce, funny, raucous, free-associative jazz energy infuses every line. This is a grizzled hipster vision looking back at a period where the beast of war from Auschwitz to H-bomb to Joe McCarthy prevailed side-by-side with a cultural complacency while a wide-ranging constellation of writers and artists refused its numbing protocol. Beat Thing rises up as an ecstatic chant of defiance and celebration.


Beat Thing is David Meltzer’s truly epic poem — an engagement with history & his own participatory & witnessing presence. If the title at first suggests a nostalgic romp through a 1950s-style beat scene, it doesn’t take long before mid-twentieth-century America’s urban pastoralism comes apart in all its phases & merges with the final solutions of death camps & death bombs from the preceding decade. This is collage raised to a higher power — a tough-grained & meticulously detailed poetry — “without check with original energy,” as Whitman wrote — & very much what’s needed now.
— Jerome Rothenberg

The Beat Thing sizzles as close as yesterday—with landmarks, names, occasions—as Poet Meltzer writes us back into the beat. Everyone's still There. As fresh as ever.
— Joanne Kyger

David Meltzer has gifted us with his beautifully written kabalistic and unique look at the Beat Generation. He also turns his eye to the American infrastructure of Bebop. This book comes out of his mature consciousness like energy spray bursting from the brow of a dolphin.
— Michael McClure

David Meltzer’s most important lyri-political work. A profound juxtaposition in which the Beat Movement’s meaning is resonated with the haunting of the Holocaust and the American years of McCarthyism and Jim Crowism. Like all great works, this entire book is single simultaneous moment in progress, written by a poet who — in terms of the rhythms, verbal inventiveness and the naming of figures of popular culture — is without equal anywhere.
— Jack Hirschman

David Meltzer is one of the secret treasures on our planet. Great poet, musician, comic; mystic unsurpassed, performer with few peers. His "ear" like we used to say and his erudition are fine-tuned and precise. A kind of bop-perfection pervades this work.
—Diane di Prima

“how easily narrative falls into place, realizes itself through a story-telling historian who sets out to frame a tangled constantly permutating chaos into a familiar & repeatable story w/out shadows or dead-ends; how impulsively memory organizes into a choir to tell a story of what it remembers symphonically, i.e., formally; even experimentalists practice w/in or against forms that have formed their relationship to writing & telling stories; history is the story of writing”

—Epilogue from Beat Thing

David Meltzer is the author of many volumes of poetry, including The Clown (Semina, 1960), The Process (Oyez, l965), Yesod (Trigram, l969), Arrows: Selected Poetry, 1957-1992 (Black Sparrow Press, 1994), and No Eyes: Lester Young (Black Sparrow, 2000). He has also published fiction, including The Agency Trilogy (Brandon House, l968; reprinted by Richard Kasak, 1994), Orf (Brandon House, l969; reprinted by Masquerade Books, l995), Under (Rhinoceros Books, 1997), and book-length essays, including Two-Way Mirror: A Poetry Notebook (Oyez, 1977). He has edited numerous anthologies and collections of interviews, including 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), and San Francisco Beat: Talking With the Poets (City Lights, 2001). His musical recordings include Serpent Power (Vanguard Records, l968; reissued on CD in 1996) and Poet Song (Vanguard Records, l969). He teaches in the Humanities and graduate Poetics programs at the New College of California. He lives in the Bay Area.