Bert Mey­ers: On the Life and Work of an Amer­i­can Master

Daniel Levin and Adele Elise Wil­iams, eds.

  • Review
By – December 19, 2023

This vol­ume of the Unsung Mas­ters Series was writ­ten with poet­ry afi­ciona­dos in mind — espe­cial­ly those who have nev­er heard of Bert Mey­ers. With a unique voice that is at once lyri­cal and spare, Mey­ers imbues every word and breath with mean­ing. His poet­ry is a bal­anc­ing act between irrev­er­ence and rev­er­ence: he resists the norms of life and lan­guage to cre­ate verse that often sounds like prayer.

In one mem­o­rable poem, Mey­ers uses gar­lic as a metaphor for a rab­bi. Rab­bi of condiments/​whose breath is a verb,/wearing a thin beard/​and a white robe … ” In true Jew­ish form, what starts as a humor­ous and light­heart­ed poem ends on a trag­ic note. Although Mey­ers, the son of Roman­ian Jew­ish immi­grants, wasn’t a reli­gious man, he had strong ties to Jew­ish his­to­ry and cul­ture. At the end of the poem, he explores some of these ties, and con­cludes with a ref­er­ence to the Holocaust:

Now, my par­ents pray,

my grand­fa­ther sits,

my uncles fill

my mouth with ashes.

In Pub­lic Places,” Mey­ers writes about spaces, like cafes, where you can be alone not lone­ly.” His sim­ple rhymes at the end of the poem reveal the com­plex­i­ty of his feel­ings as he approach­es the end of his life, when he will, ulti­mate­ly, die of lung cancer.

Meyers’s poet­ry cov­ers a range of themes. His lan­guage is min­i­mal, hum­ble, draw­ing atten­tion to the speaker’s expe­ri­ences and emo­tions. In At Night,” Mey­ers writes about death — but it’s real­ly time, not death, that’s the ene­my. In his sig­na­ture imag­is­tic style, he turns the heart into a metaphor for the fini­tude of life:

But death comes:

out of the faucets, the floors, 

from the big clock that bleeds

weak­en­ing in its springs,

it comes shov­el­ing out my chest.

And I don’t know why

but I know the heart beats

and beats a man to death.

Mey­ers died a young man, at the age of fifty-two, but he left behind a body of work that’s time­less. His words will con­tin­ue to res­onate with cur­rent read­ers, as well as with those who have yet to dis­cov­er this unsung master.

Stew­art Flor­sheim’s poet­ry has been wide­ly pub­lished in mag­a­zines and antholo­gies. He was the edi­tor of Ghosts of the Holo­caust, an anthol­o­gy of poet­ry by chil­dren of Holo­caust sur­vivors (Wayne State Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1989). He wrote the poet­ry chap­book, The Girl Eat­ing Oys­ters (2River, 2004). In 2005, Stew­art won the Blue Light Book Award for The Short Fall From Grace (Blue Light Press, 2006). His col­lec­tion, A Split Sec­ond of Light, was pub­lished by Blue Light Press in 2011 and received an Hon­or­able Men­tion in the San Fran­cis­co Book Fes­ti­val, hon­or­ing the best books pub­lished in the Spring of 2011. Stew­art’s new col­lec­tion, Amus­ing the Angels, won the Blue Light Book Award in 2022.

Discussion Questions