by Barry Spacks

“I live in the only east-west valley in North
— Dan Gerber, in

SPEED WRITER: The factoid above is the sort of
thing a poet would want to know: Dan Gerber and
wife Debbie, a prize-winning horsewoman, have
settled in a valley near Santa Ynez unlike any other. An honorary
Santa Barbaran, Dan has read at our Museum of Art, at the
Contemporary Arts Forum, at UCSB, and in various April Poetry Month
celebrations in town. A man as distinguished as his valley, he’s
one of the most admired and honored poets in our area.

A writer with the calm slowness of manner befitting long Zen
training, Gerber is also used to traveling at 200 miles per hour. A
professional racecar driver as a young guy — and author of a
book-length history of the Indianapolis 500 — he gave up speed
after a disastrous racing accident some 30 years ago, but has
recently taken the sport up again. He also makes frequent speed
trips to Santa Barbara gunning his slick bike, a Ducati.

He has published five collections of poems along with three
novels, a book of stories, and a smattering of essays, with
individual works appearing in The Nation, the New
, Poetry, the Georgia Review, and
numerous anthologies. Among his many honors was his winning of
Forward magazine’s Gold Medal Book of the Year Award for poetry in
1999 and the prestigious Mark Twain Award in 2001. His next
gathering of poems arrives from Copper Canyon Press in spring

Here’s a brief sampler of recent Gerber poems, work modest in
voice, spiritually oriented, releasing a mysteriously koan-ic
energy. The first followed a long series of visitations from a fox
who’d stare at the poet:

When I looked up again
I could see the fox from my window,
watching as she would every day
on my walk,
from her cover of mullein and snakeweed,
barking her curt, raucous bark
till I scanned the hillside
and our eyes met,
as if, by some pact,
made back in the primordial when our
trails first crossed,
we had agreed on this still,
shrouded, morning in June
to question these two
of our ten thousand lives.

This wry way of delving for mystery in the Gerber voice is
familiar to Zenists, as is the self-aware teasing in the poem

At Any Moment
This anger sneaks back in
like the thought of a white horse
I’m determined to ignore,
my heart on fire with intolerance
of intolerance,
the wars I fight against the wars
in me.
I have come to regret
being right about anything.

In a last example, with an S.B. setting, the poet again sounds
the note of ironic self-knowledge. Most readers won’t need to be
told that the title refers to a person committed to relieving the
pain and forwarding the happiness of others.

When the young man on State Street
approached as if to ask directions,
saying “Can you help me out a little here?”
and I, though I already knew, said
“Help you out how, exactly?”
“A dollar or two if you can,”
he said, and I took a deep breath,
holding in what I might’ve held out,
hearing. When someone asks, you
give what you can, from my bank
of training in the ways of compassion,
and though I didn’t want to,
opened my wallet, and
with the munificence of a toad,
pulled out a five and bought him off.


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.