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David Lerner (November 23, 1951 – July 1, 1997?) was an American renegade poet born in New York City. Lerner came from a family of Russian-Jewish renegades, and grew up as a so-called "red-diaper baby". Lerner published numerous articles as a journalist, including material on the Russian singer and poet Vladimir Vysotsky. Lerner pursued a bohemian life and became involved in the notorious Cafe Babar in San Francisco about 1986, a group dubbed as the Babarians. Lerner and Bruce Isaacson co-founded Zeitgeist Press and have been referred to as 'the Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot of the underground.' Lerner's common-law wife, Maura O'Connor also published poetry.
One of Lerner's most celebrated poems, "Mein Kampf", is a seminal statement of underground poetics in response to the weight of the mainstream. In it he says:
sell arms to the Martians
than wait sullenly for a
letter from a diseased clown with a
telling me that I've won a
bullet-proof pair of rose-colored glasses
for my poem "Autumn in the Spring"
Lerner was associated with the Lyman Family a.k.a. Fort Hill Construction, who have preserved his literary memory. Lerner's work has not yet been fully collected in an available edition. A considerable amount of Lerner's work is still unpublished, including poems, prose, and a large volume of letters.
Lerner died of a heroin overdose in 1997 and Zeitgeist published 'The Last Five Miles to Grace' posthumously. Bucky Sinister of the San Francisco Bay Guardian wrote: "Lerner was a broken-down saint if there ever was one. He was an eloquent screamer, a soft-spoken rageoholic, a madman with a great manuscript. His poetry will always be a reminder of a time when poetry in the Mission was spontaneous, magical, and more than a little bit dangerous."
- I Want a New Gun (1988)
- Why Rimbaud Went to Africa (1989)
- The American Book of the Dead (1991)
- Pray Like the Hunted (1992)
- New American Underground Poetry: The Babarians of San Francisco -- Poets From Hell" (2001, edited by David Lerner, Julia Vinograd, Alan Allen)
- The Last Five Miles to Grace (2005, new and selected poems)
- Pirate Lerner (2006, CD, also on iTunes)
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