Columbia Writer's Series Past Speakers

David Meltzer and Michael Rothenberg
Thursday, May 14, 2009

Meltzer and Rothenberg will host a discussion and offer readings as part of ROCKPILE ON THE ROAD: Collaboration and The Troubadour Tradition in the 21st Century."

Photo of poet David MeltzerA leading poet of the Beat Movement, David Meltzer was raised in Brooklyn during the War years; performed on radio & early TV on the Horn & Hardart Children¹s Hour. Meltzer has said he "was exiled to L.A. at 16 & at 17 enrolled in an ongoing academy w/ artists Wallace Berman, George Herms, Robert Alexander, Cameron; migrated to San Francisco in l957 for higher education w/ peers & maestros like Jack Spicer, Robert Duncan, Joanne Kyger, Diane DiPrima, Michael McClure, Lew Welch, Philip Whalen, Jack Hirschman, a cast of thousands all living extra-ordinary ordinary lives."

His work for Beat Thing [La Alameda Press, 2004] won the Josephine Miles PEN Award, 2005. Meltzer served as editor and interviewer for San Francisco Beat: Talking With The Poets [City Lights, 2001]. With Steve Dickison, he co-edits Shuffle Boil, a magazine "devoted to music in all its appearances & disappearances."  The year 2005 marked the publication of David’s Copy: The Selected Poems of David Meltzer by Viking/Penguin, a collection spanning over forty years of work that paints a vivid portrait of Meltzer’s life as a poet through poems taken from thirty of his previous books of poetry. With a versatile style and playful tone, Meltzer offers his unique vision of civilization with a range of juxtapositions from Jewish mysticism and everyday life to jazz and pop culture. 

In 1967, Vanguard Records released The Serpent Power, a collaborative effort featuring the poems of David Meltzer, which would appear that same year in print in The Dark Continent from Oyez. According to Vanguard, "The Serpent Power was not simply a spoken word album, but poetry made into rock 'n' roll."

It featured David Meltzer on guitar and harmonica, Denny Ellis on rhythm guitar, David Stenson on bass, John Payne on organ, Clark Coolidge on drums, and vocals by David and Tina Meltzer. The final track, "Endless Tunnel," also featured J. P. Pickens on the electrified 5-string banjo.

The Serpent Power is now available on a double-album CD with Poet Song, another poetic-rock collaboration by David and Tina Meltzer.

Rolling Stone says about David Meltzer and Serpent Power: "Think of the Serpent Power as the Bay Area's version of the Velvet Underground. Led by poet David Meltzer, with Meltzer on untutored post-folk guitar, Meltzer and his wife, Tina, singing his songs, poet Clark Coolidge clattering behind on drums and the soon-vanished John Payne fixing a hole on organ, their music was minimalist folk rock with noise - the climactic, electric-banjo augmented "Endless Tunnel" goes on for thirteen minutes. Some songs began as poems, others didn't, but all feature notable lyrics - some romantic, some gruff, some both. And all but a few are graced by excellent tunes, none more winsome than that of the lost classic "Up and Down."

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Photo of poet Michael RothenbergMichael Rothenberg is a poet, songwriter, and editor in the San Francisco Bay area. Born in Miami Beach, Florida, Rothenberg received his Bachelor of Arts in English at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Afterward, he moved to California in 1976, where he began Shelldance Nursery, an orchid and bromeliad nursery. In 1993 he received his MA in Poetics at New College of California.

In 1989, Rothenberg and artist Nancy Davis began Big Bridge Press, a fine print literary press, publishing works by Jim Harrison, Joanne Kyger, Allen Ginsberg, Philip Whalen and others, and Big Bridge webzine,

Rothenberg is co-editor and co-founder of Jack Magazine, a literary publication that relates to, but expands beyond, the beat generation. His books include Unhurried Vision, Paris Journals, What The Fish Saw, Nightmare Of The Violins, Man/Woman (w/Joanne Kyger), Favorite Songs and most recently CHOOSE, Selected Poems (Big Bridge Press). Editorial projects include Overtime, Selected Poems by Philip Whalen, As Ever, Selected Poems by Joanne Kyger, Way More West, Selected Poems of Edward Dorn, and The Collected Poems of Philip Whalen.

Rothenberg received his MA in Poetry and Popular Song. His songs have appeared in Hollywood Pictures' Shadowhunter and Black Day, Blue Night, and most recently, TriStar Pictures' Outside Ozona. Other songs have been recorded on CDs including: The Darkest Part of The Night and Born Too Late by Bob Malone, Difficult Woman by Australian Rhythm and Blues legend Renee Geyer, Global Blues Deficit by Cody Palance, and The Woodys by The Woodys. Rothenberg's 2005 CD collaboration with singer Elya Finn, was praised by poet David Meltzer as "fabulous-all [the] songs sound like Weimar Lenya & postwar Nico, lushly affirmative at the same time being edged w/ cosmic weltschmertz. An immensely tasty production."

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EDITORS' NOTE:  Michael Rothenberg's photo is courtesy of Terri Carrion.   David Meltzer's photography is courtesy Richard Friedman.