• Mel Weisburd and Kathabela Wilson.

      Mel Weisburd and Kathabela Wilson.

      An interview with Mel Weisburd, a father of contemporary poetry since the beat era in Los Angeles, and a pioneer of our environmental movement.

      By Kathabela Wilson

      Mel Weisburd is a brilliant poet, and a longtime spirited unifier of communities of poets. ​

      A microscope on the poet

      When and how did you become a poet?

      Looking back, as a child, I can see that I thought in short lines to maintain myself as a resonant being. I did not know about poetry, but there it was! That may have been a form of autistic thinking. My father divorced my mother, a Polish immigrant, before I was three during the great depression. Mel Weisburd.Records show that both she and I were tested and declared morons! She was diagnosed ‘feeble minded’ and put away. Given how I turned out to the contrary, and the discredited mental health practices of those times, I laughed much of this off. On the other hand, considering the importance we give the first three years of life, I have always wondered who she was, how much did she determine the rest of my life? In a sense, her absence is present in my life just as much as if she had always been with me. This mystery still haunts my poetry to this day.

      A telescope on the poet

      You’ve led a double life–an active poet in Los Angeles since the 50’s, an editor of the renowned Coastlines Magazine, where you wrote and published the best beat poetry and poets of the day, while simultaneously being an Environmental Pollution Specialist! Tell us about that.

      I was fortunate to meet and study with the great poetry teacher Thomas McGrath in LA in the 50’s. A sketch of Mel by his late wife, Gloria Weisburd.He taught me that a poem could be a social machine; a mind-maker; a mind changer and the poem once expressed belonged to society, a powerful, meaningful and beautiful dormant germ that could explode or go viral at any time. Over a sandwich and a beer we got to know each other better. He was surprised by my profession. “A smogman?! Is there such a thing?! Man, that’s a hell where even Dante wouldn’t tread. And you’re the canary.”

      Pulse of the poet

      Along with your scientific, contemporary bent, I sense a lyrical romanticism, a strong emotional artistic element in your life and poetry.

      Of course, the biggest event of my life was my marriage to Gloria Applebaum. She was four years older, but it was mutual love at very first sight. I found it difficult to adapt to marriage. I was still self absorbed, too interested in ideas, but we became attached to each other, sensuously and affectionately. Mel Weisburd and his late wife, Gloria.It lasted 50 years until she passed in 2006. She was an artist in every media and our home, where I still live today, is covered inside and out, with her paintings, stained glass, ceramics, sculpture, metalwork and much more. Even her kiln still stands at the edge of our kidney shaped, now unused, swimming pool. I recall and celebrate my life with her in “The Gloria Poems.” Our marriage redeemed the bad effects of my childhood. We had a daughter Stefi Weisburd, who graduated with an MS in physics from Stanford and easily crossed the cultural divide to become a distinguished poet.

      Space shuttle to the poet

      After more than eight decades, how do you resolve the incongruities of life, and how do we explore contemporary poetry, and the future?

      My work and my art make sense together though I and others often questioned it. I remember a trip to Mexico that clarified my view. Mel Weisburd and daughter, Stefi Weisburd.Rivera and many artists there hand-wrought art, science, agriculture and industry into powerful public images. I wanted to go that way, towards some kind of world wide movement that would sweep industrial economies along with it in reaction to growing pollution, abandoning their sole self-interests. I see today’s poetry as a sub-culture that grew from the literary world of the 50’s and 60’s parallel to rock, hip-hop and pop. How good or long-lasting much of it is, we shall have to wait and see. We see metaphor becoming widespread in advertising, documentary, and everyday life. There is rapid expansion of human consciousness to the edge of the universe and possible multiverses beyond, from the local to the global village. At the same time, everyone on this planet is a poet at any age inputting to the great cloud babble! In the end, what else is there to do. The rational, natural and beautiful way would eventually be the only way left to go. Or else we resign ourselves to catastrophe.

      By Mel Weisburd

      When I pull its lever my legs swing high,
      my behind sinks deep, my back holds
      45 degrees. It’s arms embrace me.
      I sleep better, apnea eases.
      I become a serial dreamer.

      The lever spins dreams like a slot machine:
      lost airline tickets, keys, lovers, nakedness.
      deadlines missed, infants falling.

      Now I sleep more than I’m awake.
      I live in stage sets of retrospect, travel
      from one foreign city to another.
      Imagination plagiarizes my past.
      I worry about running out of gas.

      Lever up, I’m in childhood;
      Thurber’s ghost of second thought
      mocking my ignorant ways.
      Lever down, I’m dumped back
      into a sun blazed somewhere
      in the dateless present.


      > Mel Weisburd passed away (April 2015) shortly after he gave this interview. See all the material Mel sent, including poems, further memories, and thoughts. He had wished to continue to edit, and add to this, as a further testament.

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        • Kathabela Wilson

          Kathabela Wilson is a local poet/writer/artist and musician. Her Poets Salon has become an international respected must read in the poetry world. She's the creator and host of the Pasadena-based group, “Poets on Site.”

          Colorado Boulevard is your place for enlightening events, informative news and social living for the greater Pasadena area.
          We strive to inform, educate, and work together to make a better world for all of us, locally and globally.

        • Latest posts by Kathabela Wilson

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      1. Alice Pero says:

        Mel was so amazing in every way and this little time capsule is a perfect way to remember him. Thank you for re-posting it.

      2. Alex Nodopaka says:


        You and your poetry reading were impressive when I met you at Kathabela and you still are. I still read you on occasion. Glad you’re inspiring us with your presence.

      3. Susan Dobay says:

        “World wide movement that would sweep industrial economies along with it in reaction to growing pollution, abandoning their sole self-interests.” M.W.

        I feel fortunate to know Mel Weisburd who reminds me some of the great Hungarian poets, who through their poetry guided and inspired the people to THINK and LOVE, . Many of them were involved to fight for social justice.

        Thank you Kathabela for giving the opportunity to people to hear about talented and some times great thinkers and philosophers like Mel.

      4. Lin Ostler says:

        Enlightening. Thank you, Kathabela.

      5. susandiri says:

        Very happy to read all this, Mel & Kathabela!! I just ordered a copy of THE GLORIA POEMS! Mel, your writing is very inspiring–thanks!!

      6. Toti O'Brien says:

        “The rational, natural and beautiful way would eventually be the only way left to go”… how wonderful to start a new day with these words – knowing they come from such a deep source. Deep – and clear. Thank you Kathabela, as always

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