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Tag Archives: John Wieners

Two-Way Mirror by David Meltzer (City Lights)

Two-Way Mirror by David Meltzer (City Lights)

The opening stanza of one of David Meltzer’s poems for Donald Allen’s landmark anthology, The New American Poetry 1945-60, sets the scene for this delightful book:

An overdose of beautiful words
keeps rushing inside my mind
but won’t relate to thought or talk.
Like balloons, they will not last long
& insist on flying out of the hand
to die in the sky—released.

The poem was dedicated to John Wieners and that seems entirely appropriate; those things which insist on escaping are in the process of evaporating or stilling themselves on paper; they become part of a two-way mirror.

When this book was first published in 1977 Meltzer had already had at least two books published by the Oyez Press run by Robert and Dorothy Hawley. It was only the previous year, 1976, that Oyez had published William Everson’s (Brother Antoninus) account of the West Coast, Archetype West, The Pacific Coast as a Literary Region, and in the acknowledgements Everson referred to Robert Hawley in terms of ‘thoughtful conversation about the problem of writing in the West’ and the provision of ‘a ceaseless flow of materials’. It would seem then highly appropriate that Meltzer should discuss with Robert Hawley the venture of writing a poetry primer.

The original edition of Two-Way Mirror contained an insert which was directed at various educational ‘facilities’ and it included the following statement:

TWO-WAY MIRROR can be read by anyone who wishes to, but it is primarily a book of texts intended for people who might be interested in reading and / or writing poetry. ..Much of the book’s parts have been effectively used in poetry workshops that I’ve conducted in high schools, both public and private, in California. Much of my concern has been to reach and activate the capacity for poetry and poem-making latent but approachable in many young people.

This book is a delight to dip into and were I to be back in the classroom I would, without any doubt at all, use it time and time again. It is crammed with statements that breathe life into discussion.

• ‘Every word a tradition, a binding’

Such a simple phrase but I would want to expand on this to examine etymology, words, their contexts, their associations, their echoes. What a splendid way of starting a lesson about poetry! It is words that bind thought together.

• ‘A poem allows you sight of what is on the surface as well as what is beneath the surface or behind it.’

• ‘A poem restores your world to a level of revelation’.

And perhaps most pertinent of all:

‘A stanza can be one or two or three or four or fifty or one hundred lines long.
A stanza can be a word.
Any poem is like a painting. It’s built up out of parts. Strokes, layers, surfaces, textures, forms that interrelate and balance and together create a whole entity.’

Time and again when students are faced with complex poems the temptation is to shrug and walk away; Meltzer’s advice is central. After all a stanza is a room. Enter it, look around, move onto the next room and then walk back to experience being in the first one again. Reading is looking, thinking and responding. This book is a boost to self-confidence and, in turn, self-esteem and I wish that every secondary school in the country would buy this book! After that, I wish that every Head of Department in the country would make it essential reading for his colleagues and use its resources as topics for departmental discussion.

Ian Brinton 24th May 2015

Beat Scene 75 Winter 2014 Edited by Kevin Ring

Beat Scene 75 Winter 2014 Edited by Kevin Ring

This issue features along essay by poet, Ron Loewinsohn on the North Beach, San Francisco scene in the mid-Fifties before City Lights bookshop, Allen Ginsberg became famous and made the area a mecca for beats and hippies. Loewinsohn was encouraged to write and submit poems to LeRoi Jones, later Amiri Baraka’s Yugen magazine, by Ginsberg. This eventually led to Baraka publishing his first book, with an introduction by Ginsberg. The memoir centres on the April 1956 Berkeley Community Theater reading hosted by Kenneth Rexroth and featuring Ginsberg, Philip Whalen, Gary Snyder and Michael McClure, and how it transformed poetry reading events in the area from the literary equivalent of a polite piano recital to an informal gathering with the distinction between poets and audience blurred. On stage the poets commented on each other’s poems as they were being read and cheered good lines, along with the audience. It was here that Ginsberg gave the first full reading of Howl:

… pacing himself so that the intensity of his delivery built to three separate climaxes at the ends of the poem’s three sections. It was an extraordinary performance. It was far more than a recitation to a passive audience. This interaction between the poet and his audience affirmed the community that had been formed by the occasion: the poet articulated the community’s values and its ethos, while the community then affirmed the poet as its spokesman.’

Jerry Cimino writes about the re-discovery of Neal Cassady’s ‘Joan Anderson letter’, which inspired Jack Kerouac’s writing style. Eric Shoaf is interviewed about his career as a bibliographer and collector of William Burroughs literary works. Dan Poljak interviews Pierre Delattre, who was part of the North Beach scene in the late 50 and 60s about his memories, in particular of the arrival and influence of the Black Mountain College alumni and also Colin Wilson’s The Outsider.

Jim Burns’s essay on Discovery magazine, the paperback pocket-book size journal, edited by Vance Bourjaily, details its relevance to the Greenwich Village scene. Kevin Ring offers his thoughts on Tom Waits reading of Charles Bukowski’s Nirvana poem, on a film set in Forest Hill, London, and Paul Lyons essay on John Wieners quotes heavily from The Journal of John Wieners is to be called 707 Scott Street for Billie Holiday 1959 (Sun & Moon Press, 1996) and delineates its background.

The joy of Beat Scene is always in the discovery of forgotten writers, poets and magazines and its extensive review section. Here David Holzer writes about Terry Taylor’s Baron’s Court, All Change (1961), an English beat novel, republished by Five Leaves Press in 2012 in its New London Editions. The novel has received a strong review in Modern Review describing it as ‘an essential piece of literature that, as Kerouac’s On The Road or Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, sums up not only a generation or movement, but a sentiment of restless youth and rootless verve that lives on in today’s society as much as in any other’.

As ever, there is much to enjoy in Beat Scene. Subscriptions are 4 for £26. Email:

David Caddy 28th January 2015

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