A milestone in City Lights history, David Meltzer's When I Was a Poet is number sixty of the famous Pocket Poets Series. The title work is an ambitious late masterpiece from a legendary poet at the height of his powers, a spiritual assessment of the meaning of a lifetime of writing poetry. Also included are reminiscences of California bohemian life, a series of mystical amulets, and profound meditations on love, loss, aging and death. Associated with the Beat Generation and late '60s psychedelia, musician, novelist and editor David Meltzer is one of America's foremost living poets.
"Meltzer is a prolific poet of many modes and voices, quite a few of which are here, love poems, poems out of childhood, a series of "amulets," cryptic short wisdom poems, and much more. These are all tasty, often ironic and/or mysterious, pieces of Davidness to be savored . . . "—Richard Silberg, Poetry Flash
"With this primal book, David Meltzer takes his place among the great poets of his generation."—Lawrence Ferlinghetti
"An erudite man with interests that range from Jewish mysticism to jazz, Meltzer is anything but bookish. He writes quick, wry poetry, embedded with wisdom, his short lines delivered in a dancing street vernacular that gathers force as it uncovers fresh discoveries."—Bart Schneider, San Francisco Chronicle
"Meltzer's work has always been quirky, lyrical, and fresh with a self-respect that jumps right off the page and invites readers into the delight of expression."—Bloomsbury Review
"For Meltzer, the experience of being a poet is inextricable from the experience of the body in a way that is simultaneously physical and spiritual."—Julie Babcock, Rain Taxi
"Take a poet’s life work and distill it into pure essence—it will look like When I Was a Poet by David Meltzer (City Lights Books). Having fully lived, the Beat legend stands at the abyss and peers down (and back). In these poems we grow. 'Grow to know / Death’s musk / on the cusp.' These double-stressed lines are simple to the point of lift-off. In elegizing, chronicling, assessing, and questioning, Meltzer kindles the word pyre so we can see ourselves, naked and candle-smudged. He writes what the light has 'sewn together.' Here, hear, 'The poem angels sing, arising.'"—Jeffrey Cyphers Wright, The Brooklyn Rail