Excerpted from Poetry Magazine
By Dana Levin ’87
As an undergraduate at Pitzer College in 1984, I set up camp in the Bert Meyers Poetry Room. It was upstairs in the front bedroom of the Grove House, a Craftsman-style bungalow that had been moved to campus with great fanfare some years before, to serve as a student union of sorts. For three years, I read and wrote under the gaze of a portrait of Bert, which had a knack for falling off the wall whenever I was especially brooding about life. At those moments I always thought Bert was trying to get my attention: “Snap out of it! Get back to work!” And so I would. I hung out in the Poetry Room so much I moved in by accretion, eventually spending each night on the outside sleeping porch just off a side window for most of a semester, until the custodial staff found me out. Although Bert was five years dead when I started college, his presence was very alive in that room and in the classrooms where I began to study poetry.
Bert Meyers in 1966. (ELLIOTT ERWITT/MAGNUM PHOTOS)
…In 2007, nearly thirty years after he died, University of New Mexico Press brought out a collection, In a Dybbuk’s Raincoat, which is how new and younger readers found his work. Small presses, university presses—Bert’s work would not have survived without them. Considering the financial precarity such presses continually face, it’s no surprise that all of Bert’s books are out of print.
Which brings us to now. Nearly forty years after I first walked into the Bert Meyers Poetry Room, I’ve had the luck to edit a volume of his work for the Unsung Masters Series at Pleiades Press, a volume which published in March. My coeditor, Adele Elise Williams, and Bert’s son, Daniel Meyers, have been integral to this endeavor. I extend special gratitude to Daniel, who has kept his father’s archive of poems, journals, letters, notes, and photos alive: this book— and this folio—would not exist without Daniel’s stewardship of Bert’s memory.
Readers will notice I keep referring to Bert as “Bert,” and not “Meyers,” which would be the convention for an introductory essay on a literary figure—I can’t help it. As a student at Pitzer College, no one I met who had known Bert referred to him as anything else. There was often a sense of familial love, reverence, and bemusement in the way his former students and colleagues talked about him. Even though I never met Bert, I began to feel part of this family, part of the protective and loving circle that seemed to surround his memory and his work. A deep bow to Kevin Prufer and everyone on the board of the Unsung Masters Series, as well as to the editorial team at Poetry: you make space for the recovery and reclamation of significant literary voices nearly lost to time.