DAVID MELTZER: the vintage appendage

(Nicole McFeely)

City Lights was filling up fast, but there was still one seat available, and it was sandwiched between me and a nice-enough-looking gentleman to my left. So far, I had watched people eye it longingly for a moment before settling for standing room, deciding that either the man or myself must have a guest with us. We didn’t. Through chance, a friend of David Meltzer‘s creative partner, Julie Rogers, wound up snatching it just in time. We began to talk while waiting for Meltzer to arrive. She told me she was very pleased to have been given the honor of presiding over the pair’s ceremony, taking place in only a few short months. She said “David Meltzer” as though I might not know who he was, though she said it without pretension. I would like Julie, she told me, who she said was a lovely reader despite being somewhat nervous for the evening. She was. A lovely reader, that is. We talked about how strange it can be to share your work with others, especially those you admire. I told her that there are probably people whose work I admire that don’t admire me. What’s the point in wasting time caring about that? You either have to write it down, or you don’t. There’s not much else worth giving a damn about except the experience of it.

And what an experience it was; Meltzer is the real deal. You could see that even before he began to speak, it was apparent in the way everyone in the room reacted to his arrival. You could see it in the way his facial expressions never seemed forced, only thoughtful. Watching him read was like watching a time capsule open itself, sipping a glass of some old world vintage. They said it had been 56 years before Ferlinghetti decided to publish a book of poetry written by Meltzer. Why had it taken so long? Garret Caples, who edits the Pocket Poets Series, said they had both been too discrete to proposition the other to do it. I liked that idea, though Ferlinghetti certainly doesn’t have a reputation for being a discrete sort of anything, so I wondered… “It just goes to show it can happen. Don’t give up!” Meltzer interjected with a laugh. He was right. It happens all the time.

Whatever the reason for it taking so long, Meltzer deserved it; his reading was incredible. A classy and animated reader, he seemed to be continually grinning, nodding, and gesturing with his hands. Watching him, I understood what it was to read one’s work with utter familiarity. It was like he was simply showing us another tangible part of him, his hand or his arm, something he had grown with over time, something he understood the function of. Though the crowd would have sat listening much longer, Meltzer concluded on time, conscious of his “limit” as though anyone in the room would impose one on him. When he finished, people rushed to the counter to buy his book.

After the reading, there was only one place to go. Someone invited me to a table to have a drink and meet Meltzer and the rest of the folks who had been with him at City Lights. I wasn’t nearly enough whiskeys deep to feel comfortable joining a group of friends, especially this one—a move I assume is pulled all too commonly by strangers and tourists looking to catch a glimpse of “the beat generation” or what have you. I imagine that type of voyeruism gets old fast, especially at Specs. I preferred to stay apart from it and watch.

Old patrons are old friends at Specs and get topped off extra by their smirking bartenders, who come around the counter to welcome them in the door with hugs. Many old patrons are old poets, nicer than some of the young poets I’ve met because they mean it when they’re nice. It’s not some silly game to them anymore, people trying to prove something. It’s done, proven. With such a welcoming air about the group, I can see how it could be tempting to pull up a chair and pretend to be a part of it all before it’s gone. Somehow, after watching Meltzer and the others, I felt much older and still so far removed from my era. People in their 70’s discussed facebook next to me as I caught the bartender’s eye and ordered a drink, a nightcap on an evening that had reminded me why I came to this city in the first place. Cheers.

Julie Rogers

David Meltzer