About Bert Meyers
self taught lyric poet,
picture framer/gilder, rebel
Bert Meyers was born Bertram Ivan Meyers in Los Angeles on March 20, 1928. The son of Romanian and Polish Jewish immigrants, he maintained strong lifelong ties to his Jewish cultural heritage without being religious. Always rebellious and a questioner of authority, he decided to drop out of high school and become a poet.
For many years he worked at manual labor jobs, including janitor, farmer worker, house painter, and printer’s apprentice, until he became a master picture framer and gilder. Here he finally found some satisfaction in the process of craftsmanship and attention to detail, the same approach he used in composing his poetry. Throughout these years he continued to write, feeling that a poet should be immersed in the world, not ensconced in academia, and should have real world things to write about. As he wrote in his journals “I worked for more than fifteen years at various kinds of manual labor and during that time I met many men and women who could see and speak as poetically as those who are glorified by the printing press and the universities.”
Meyers wanted to be self-taught. He read everything he could get his hands on and had a prodigious literary memory. He frequented the vibrant circles of LA poets at the time, with Thomas McGrath among others. Fiercely independent and nonconforming he strove to find his own path. In the words of his fellow poet and friend Robert Mezey, “Bert Meyers belonged to no school or coterie and had no use for fashion. He was that rarest of creatures, a pure lyric poet. His poems are very much what he was – gentle, cantankerous, reflective, passionate and wise.”
During the late 40s and 50s he was involved with the communist youth in Los Angeles. His idealism and belief in people drew him towards various causes for the rest of his life, from civil rights to the anti-Vietnam War movement. Though never dogmatic, or overtly political, his poems are full humanistic belief and philosophy.
In 1957 he married Odette Sarah Miller, a recent French immigrant to LA, who became the love of his life and his muse. A writer, poet and translator in her own right, she helped anchor his turbulent nature. They had two children, Anat Silvera and Daniel Meyers. But it was challenging to support this young family on the small salary of a picture framer. Within a couple of years exposure to the fumes and materials of gilding and picture framing made him ill, exacerbated by his smoking. He was hospitalized and could not work for two difficult years. In “Gently, Gently” a love poem he wrote to Odette, he described this period of their lives:
“We, too, began with joy.
Then, sickness came;
We were poor, so poor,
Our children were our only friends.
Somehow, we created hope,
in the shadow’s wrist;
a tuning fork
on the sidewalk of dreams.
Although he had never taken undergraduate classes, and had no high school diploma, in 1964 he was admitted to the Claremont Graduate School on the basis of his poetic achievements. By 1967 he had completed a Masters degree and all the work necessary for a Ph.D in English Literature and was hired to teach poetry and literature at Pitzer College in Claremont where he taught until 1978. Bert Meyers died of lung cancer in 1979, at the young age of 51.
During the last period of his life as a professor Meyers not only finally had the time offered by academia to focus on his writing, he also had an important and lasting influence on some of his most talented students, a new generation of poets and writers, including ; Dennis Cooper, Amy Gerstler, Garrett Hongo and Mauyra Simon among others.
During his lifetime, Meyers published the collections Early Rain (1960), The Dark Birds (1968), Sunlight on the Wall (1976), Windowsills (1979), and The Wild Olive Trees (1979). Before he died, he selected and arranged the core poems of In a Dybbuk’s Raincoat: Collected Poems (2007). His widow, Odette Meyers, son Daniel Meyers, and friend Morton Marcus shepherded the book into publication, expanding Meyers’s original selection into his collected works by adding more poems, songs, articles, and testimonies to the work Meyers had originally chosen.
Meyers’s precisely framed poems are frequently image driven and often quite short. Noting that “the image is unequivocally at the center of his work” in her introduction to In a Dybbuk’s Raincoat, the late poet Denise Levertov lamented that “Bert Meyers death has deprived us of one of the best poets of our time.” and praised Meyers’s work for the “extraordinary intensity and perfection of his poems and the consistency with which he illumined what he experienced, bodying it forth in images that enable readers to share his vision and thereby extend the boundaries of their own lives.”
PUBLICATIONS: soon to be in print in bold
Early Rain (Alan Swallow, 1960)
The Dark Birds (Doubleday, 1968)
Sunlight on the Wall (kayak, 1976)
The Wild Olive Tree (West Coast Poetry Review, 1979)
Windowsills (The Common Table, 1979)
The Wild Olive Tree & The Blue Café (JAZZ/BACHY, 1981)
In A Dybbuk's Raincoat: Collected Poems (Univ. of New Mexico Press, 2007)
Bert Meyers : The Unsung Masters Series (Pleiades Press, 2023)
Poems in the following anthologies:
The Birds and the Beasts Were there, ed. William Cole (World, 1963)
Elleve Moderne Amerikanske Lyrikere, ed. Erick Thygesen (Sirius: Odense, Denmark, 1964)
Eight Lines and Under, ed. William Cole (Macmillan, 1967)
Poésie '68, ed. Maison de Culture de Grenoble, France 1968
Just What the Country Needs, Another Poetry Anthology,
ed. Mc Michael and Saleh (Wadsworth, 1971)
Poetry Brief, ed. William Cole (Macmillan, 1971)
Messages. ed. X.J. Kennedy (Little, Brown, 1972)
Poets West, ed. Lawrence Spingarn (Perivale Press, 1975)
The Surrealist Poem in English, ed. Edward Germain (Penguin, 1978)
Voices Within the Ark, the modern Jewish Poets, ed. Howard
Schwartz and Anthony Rudolp (Avon 1980)
New Directions Yearly Anthology, ed. John Laughlin (New Directions, 1981)
Anthologie de la Poésie Juive du monde entier depuis les
temps bibliques jusqu'à nos jours, ed. Pierre Haiat (Mazarine, 1985)
Inspired by Drink, an anthology, ed. Joan & John Digby (William Morrow & Co., Inc. 1988)
Without a Single Answer, Poems on Contemporary Israel,
ed. Elaine Marcus Starkman & Leah Schweitzer (Judah Magnes Museum, 1990)
Wingbeats: Exercises & Practice in Poetry (Dos Gatos Press, 2011)
Bert Meyers: A Gardener in Paradise (Poetry Magazine Folio, January 2023)