Bert Meyers: On the Life and Work of an American Master
Unsung Masters Press 2023
The Unsung Masters Series, published annually in cooperation with Pleiades Press, Copper Nickel and Gulf Coast, has selected Bert Meyers, as their next featured writer. The Unsung Masters Series brings back to the reading public under-recognized writers whose works are often out of print and lost to time.
In addition to Meyers’ poetry, this upcoming volume will include critical essays, personal memories written by former students and colleagues, as well as photos, letters, and other memorabilia from Meyers' papers. Edited by Dana Levin and Adele Elise Williams, it will be published by the Unsung Master Series (unsungmaster.org) in the Spring of 2023.
Some excerpts from the book's essays :
Garrett Hongo -
"In school at Pomona College, I wanted to study with Bert Meyers. I'd see him around the combined campuses. He was a Jew. The story was, Meyers himself had never gone to college but had been admitted to a graduate school in literature on the strength of his poetry. He'd been hired, then, without completing the Ph.D. He was a poet. His face was sharp like an axeblade’s, his hair silvery and wiry and full of curls, ruffled like the surface of a lagoon just before a big rain. It rode up against one side of his head and seemed to crest them and hold itself like the high face of a large wave, poised just before crashing. He had eyes like a dromedary and smoked long brown unfiltered cigarettes that came in a red cardboard box. But it was his voice, a deep and resonant baritone rising to tenor, that summoned everyone when he spoke. It seemed to me that he did not actually speak, but was softly bowing, with the velvet cords in his throat, the strings of a tiny Cremona cello that was embedded there. His sentences came slowly, lavishly, with music and deliberation as if they were scored. At a public lecture, I heard him talk about "Baud’laire," and it seemed as if he were speaking of a beautiful, sickened forest, restored to life by energetic rains. He talked about Aimé Césaire of Martinique, about the Caribbean and the poetry of "Negritude," and his words sparked fresh thoughts through my mind concerning my own native land. A visiting poet from the Midwest, decked out in a varicolored Mexican poncho, once teased him about the largeness of his eyes, and Meyers said "Fuck you" out loud and flipped the arrogant visitor the bird. I decided this Meyers guy was for me. I took his class the next term."
Dana Levin -
As a young poet, reading Bert’s poems was revelatory. His capacity to visualize, to embody metaphor, stunned me. “I see it exactly!” I would think, encountering his images: two sailboats like tennis shoes walking on water; garlic whose “breath is a verb”—how entirely apt! I still feel this way, and teach Bert’s poems every chance I get. Writers of any age can learn a lot from this master imagist.
Maurya Simon -
"During our first day of class, Bert sat at the head of an oblong table in our seminar room, his white mane of hair leonine, and his striking blue eyes gazing at each of the eight students present with an intense curiosity. He asked us what we thought poetry was, and why did we want to write it? His voice was beautifully sonorous, rich and clear. A halo of cigarette smoke encircled Bert’s somber face as students struggled to articulate their poetic aims. I stuttered out some quickly improvised answers, feeling that I’d already failed in his estimation. But he nodded sagely and then said, 'The only reason to write poems is because you can’t avoid writing them. There has to be some internal imperative driving each person to tackle this ancient art form.' He paused, then added, 'But God knows you’ll never make a shekel from poetry.’”
At semester’s end, I signed up for Bert’s next poetry workshop. Following his tempered praise, I felt less insecure about showing him and our workshop members my poems. During one workshop, when another student suggested that a metaphor I used in my poem was 'tired and clichéd,' Bert exclaimed to me, 'Be on guard!' Puzzled, I looked up at him inquiringly, and he added, 'Don’t let your language go slack and without purpose. Let it be an engine for perception, a testing ground for truth, and a finite lens to the infinite.' Bert stared at me intensely, all the color drained from his face. His fiercely eloquent outburst reminded me that, for him, poetry was something intrinsically sacred and indispensable, and nothing less than highest art form."
Sean Singer -
"I best understand Bert Meyers as a Jewish writer, and he is in that slippery category by the nature of his poetic imagination. Meyers’s poems are assimilated, but invisible; indebted to the Psalms and Proverbs, but seeking new texts; being born into something as old as three millennia, but tasked with questioning everything about it; it would mean knowing that since the Shoah, every word is broken and incomplete."
Adele Williams -
As a true autodidact, Meyers champions the underdog. His poetry often concerns the silenced, the striving, those on the margins, yet critically, Meyers does not applaud himself for doing this work. Rather, he admits his own shortcomings, “the man who looks so calm / will turn into a bomb” (“Madman Songs”). These admissions of falling short as a man are what I find so very profound—they do not instruct, they do not offer solutions, they do not claim to be more than disclosure.