July: and while I thought we would run a “summer”–themed cover piece this issue, I was so taken by Andy Freeberg’s Pertov-Vodkin’s Bathing of a Red Horse, all images of beaches and 70’s Slip n’ Slides departed immediately. The photograph is part of Mr. Freeberg’s Guardians series, depicting, as our cover does, well, guardians,,,at their stations, before various well-known artworks in contemporary Russian museums. The key is composition, of course, and juxtaposition is everything — as it so often is in every art, not least in poetry, and not least in our “secret poem,” Peter Everwine’s beautiful “We Were Running,” where the past abuts the present all but seamlessly, and quietude slyly contracts with exertion, each calling to the other quite magically. So, too, in life, yes? Though in life as in the photographs, the connection may be unconscious. On a city bus yesterday, a reader of Emma jauntily enrobed in her heroine’s blue-ish gown; last month, the lithe, muscled construction worker before his post office W.P.A. counterpart. One need only look, such images seems to say; the mystery and pleasures of association are all around us. Still, constructed or “found” – what did Gass say? Wonder everywhere. And so to Christopher Buckley, who in introducing Everwine’s poem, looks very wide and closely, indeed, and so much more deeply than I, here, in this little note..
Christopher Buckley on Peter Everwine’s “We Were Running”
An admission: Peter Everwine was a mentor; and dear friend. Mid ‘70s, he taught for one quarter in our MFA program at UC Irvine and steered me to more reading and a larger vision of what a poem could be. In the later 70s, living in Fresno, teaching composition in the dept there, I worked with Peter on a reading series, inviting poets to campus. My great friend, Jon Veinberg, and I would drop in on him now and then and he’d take time to talk to us about poetry, which frankly amazed us, given the disparity in our ages and places in the world of poetry. Jon and I were fans, and we did an interview with Peter in 1979 focusing on his first two books with Atheneum, Collecting the Animals and Keeping the Night. Time passed and we were just friends—everyone over 50, rowing in the same boat toward what shore? We had been given the gift of close friendship, graciousness, and that generous warmth that was Peter. So while I trust that my appreciation of Peter’s poetry is accurate, I am nothing close to a disinterested party. . . .
Peter Everwine died unexpectedly in his home in Fresno, California, Oct. 27, 2018, at the age of 88. He’d been active, happy, and as recently as September, had given a reading of new poems to an enthusiastic audience in a local series. He was one of the most accomplished and valued poets and translators writing in the United States. His long and estimable career included eight collections of poetry, with honors such as the Lamont Poetry Prize, a senior Lecturer Fulbright award for the University of Haifa, Israel, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and Guggenheim Foundation, and an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature. His poems have been widely anthologized and were published in The Paris Review, The New Yorker, Antaeus, Field, The Iowa Review, The Ohio Review, The Western Review, Crazyhorse, Kayak, and Kenyon Review, among others. His recent collections of poetry are The Countries We Live In: Selected Poems of Natan Zach 1955-1979 (Tavern Books, 2011), and Listening Long and Late (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013), and the limited edition poetry chapbook A Small Clearing(Aureole Press, 2016).
Everwine taught at California State University-Fresno from 1962 until his retirement in 1992. With Philip Levine, and later C.G.Hanzlicek, Everwine was responsible for one of the most productive and renowned creative writing programs in America. Many nationally recognized poets owe their careers and writing lives in large part to their time in Fresno working with the poets there, especially the influence and guidance of Peter Everwine, his poetry, and his teaching. Poets Larry Levis, David St. John, Roberta Spear, Gary Soto, Dixie Salazar, Ernesto Trejo, Kathy Fagan, Greg Pape, Jon Veinberg, Lawson Inada, and Luis Omar Salinas are but a few whose skills and poetic sensibilities were influenced and shaped there.
Everwine’s was a singular vision in American Poetry. His poems speak in a universal voice, one that is elemental, not circumscribed in its imagery and symbols. Unique and never “fashionable.” The themes and occasions of his poetry often take up emotion, building a vision, a human voice, that stretches across the centuries, that is not limited by a strict time and setting. Yet, he is one of the most accessible of poets. Although he rarely pointed to the incidentals of his own, autobiographical life, emotional center of each of his poems, the first-hand experiential humanity, is unmistakable and resonant.
In the fall of 2016, New Letters ran four of his new poems with an interview, conducted by Jon Veinberg and myself, which addressed the volume of new poems he’d recently completed.
30 some years after that first interview.
One of the joys and blessings of my life the last 20 years or more has been visits to Fresno, to round up Jon and drive over to Peter’s to spend an afternoon, the 3 of us laughing, telling lies, talking poetry. Peter’s modesty was deeply disproportionate to his talent and gifts of course, and a time or two, after a glass of wine, he asked if we would like to hear a poem.
The first time I remember hearing “We were Running “was on one such afternoon. When he finished reading it, Jon and I looked at each other, completely amazed. We were stunned, could not believe the simple and essential brilliance of what we’d just heard. “You really think it’s good” Peter asked, honestly as if he were not sure, had not decided? Jon and I said it was far better than good! To me, and I think to Jon, this was Peter at the top of his voice and vision. There is a profound humility in Peter’s poems, a tenderness for the least detail in the world which his attention and care make luminous, even hopeful in the face of mortality. Bone, leaf, panorama, part of speech, an Everwine poem identifies, in any particular, in any instance, how our lives —at least in the attention of the moment, in the moment truly recalled—might claim transcendence. His exact and pure selection of detail and incident and gesture, always accessible but fresh, find the center of our loss and our hope.
Philip Levine said it best:
” Everwine’s poems are like no other in our language: they possess the simplicity and clarity I find in the great Spanish poems of Antonio Machado and his contemporary Juan Ramon Jiminez but in contemporary American English and in the rhythms of our speech, that rhythm glorified. He presents us with poetry in which each moment is recorded, laid bare, and sanctified, which is to say the poems possess a quality one finds only in the greatest poetry.”
Working with Peter’s literary executor Bill Broder, C. G. Hanzlicek and I gathered up his last/new poems along with some prose and interviews and edited, Pulling the Invisible but Heavy Cart, which Stephen F. Austin State Univ. press quickly brought out. Here is the core of Chuck Hanzlicek’s deeply eloquent Introduction:
Reading through his last poems, I am struck again by their beauty. They speak in a singular voice, one of clarity and simple diction, and always the voice responds to passion, not poetic fashion. It seems a little quaint to speak of beauty in poetry, but in these poems, forged in a lovely quietude, there is no roaring, no clamor, just words that arise from the surrounding silence, words that strike one as infallibly well-spoken. His poems have an inner glow, like moonlight on dew. They speak to us of the things that matter: family, love, the grace of the physical world, and our sorrow that we must someday part from these things. I love the poems because they belong utterly to him. I love them because they embrace the world. I love them because they elevate my species.
Here is “We Were Running” from Pulling the Invisible but Heavy Cart:
We Were Running
in memory of Annie
We were running up the slope of a hill
that dog and I, an early winter rain
beginning to fall, wind-driven and sharp,
the clouds so black the edges of the hills
were etched and incandescent. That dog
and I were running, the two of us
apart and yet together, and even now,
in the solitude of a quiet hour—the days
and that dog long gone—I can follow
those far-blown traces of unexpected joy
and find my way back again: heart wild,
lungs filling with the breath of winter,
and that dog beside me running headlong
into the world without end.
There is no “secret” then to this poem, aside from the fact that it and the book it is in should be more widely read and known. The qualities of Everwine’s poetic accomplishment are enunciated in the quotes from Levine and Hanzlicek above.
I’ll just add a few comments specific to the poem which are most likely obvious
to any reader.
First off, one of the amazing aspects of the poem is the capturing, the exactness of the moment described. I love the details that place us in that moment, the clouds “etched and incandescent” and “lungs filling with the breath of winer.”
Secondly, and importantly I think, Annie was not Peter’s dog; it belonged to a companion
so the poem is not a sentimental remembrance, but an investigation of, a dedication to, that day long past and that sense of connection to life. In an interview Jon Veinberg and I conducted with Peter for NEW LETTERS (Vol. 83 No. 1) in 2016, I asked Peter about “We Were Running”:
NL: Can you speak to that instant you capture here? It is near impossible, as we know, to write an effective, unsentimental poem on the subject of a pet. The dog is a coefficient for that distilled point of life that comes back in a much larger way. It is just amazing. How did the gathering of specifics establish the moment in the poem and then lead to the suggestion of the larger themes?
EVERWINE: The opening is fairly exact. I really did feel in touch with that dog, the wildness of the day, that incredible joy and intimacy I shared with that lovely dog. The poem tries to return to that experience, a tracing of images back through time. Also, a key for me was the sense of “apart and yet together,” which leads into the last lines and their implications.
And so those implications . . . the precise action and landscape “etched and incandescent” reveals of course the poet’s indispensible skill, that of memory, the energy of memory that can sustain us, keep those moments. And that is mixed inextricably with a sense of loss, “the days/and that dog long gone” and how we can yet, again for a moment, breathe in that life-force.
Lastly, the emotional and at the same time metaphysical cargo of that last line, it’s hope, its resignation—moves us beyond the scene, the memory to deeper considerations. One reading of the last line might go (or an expanded reading of the title)—we are all running through our lives “headlong”—occasionally calling back a trace of “unexpected joy.” Even the breath of winter can enliven, sustain us. And that memory, that moment, holds for as long as memory this specific and exact lasts in us. It lasts, we hope, without end, as a common phrase in Christian liturgy has it. And yet against every hope, there is the clear evidence of the details of the past, the details of our loss, and we know then that there is a sober, if sorrowful, irony in the last line as well as in the beauty of the moment of the poem. O, that literally there was a world without end, that we could find our way back. . . .
Peter Everwine was born in Detroit and raised in western Pennsylvania. He published seven collections of poetry, including Listening Long and Late (2013), Figures Made Visible in the Sadness of Time (2003), and Collecting the Animals (1973), which won the Lamont Poetry Prize in 1972. Philip Levine once wrote that Everwine’s poems “are like no other in our language: they possess the simplicity and clarity I find in the great Spanish poems of Antonio Machado and his contemporary Juan Ramon Jiminez but in contemporary American English and in the rhythms of our speech, that rhythm glorified. He presents us with poetry in which each moment is recorded, laid bare, and sanctified, which is to say the poems possess a quality one finds only in the greatest poetry.” Everwine was the recipient of multiple awards and honors, including a Pushcart Prize, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, among others. His poetry was featured in the Paris Review, the American Poetry Review, and others. He also translated poetry from the Hebrew and Aztec languages. Everwine taught at the California State University, Fresno, and Reed College. He lived in Fresno, California, until his death in late 2018.
Christopher Buckley’s newest book of poems, Chaos Theory, was published by Plume Editions, an imprint of MadHat Press, in January 2018. STAR JOURNAL: SELECTED POEMS was published by the Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, fall 2016. His 20th book of poetry, Back Room at the Philosophers’ Club won the 2015 Lascaux Prize in Poetry from the Lascaux Review. Among several critical collections and anthologies of contemporary poetry, he has edited: Bear Flag Republic: Prose Poems and Poetics from California, 2008, and ONE FOR THE MONEY: THE SENTENCE AS A POETIC FORM, from Lynx House Press, 2012, both with Gary Young. He has also edited On the Poetry of Philip Levine: Stranger to Nothing, Univ. of Michigan Press 1991, and Messenger to the Stars: a Luis Omar Salinas New Selected Poems & Reader for Tebot Bach’s Ash Tree Poetry Series.
To three-repeat: If you enjoyed Christopher Buckley’s piece, all of the Plume newsletters are now gathered under Archives on our homepage.
And Plume Poetry 7 is in hand! I am very pleased to note that several poets who teach will be using Plume Poetry 7 in their classes in the Fall.
And why not a last longing peek, at Kristen Weber’s gorgeous cover?
(Almost) penultimately, again a request. As you will note, I try to highlight recent of soon to be published books by Plume contributors at the conclusion of this newsletter. My method for gathering these materials is haphazard, to say the least. Now, I want to rectify that to whatever degree that is possible. So – if you have a new book — or have won some award or grant or other, perhaps send me a quick email – I want to highlight your many wonderful achievements here. And a little PR never hurts, right?
In the first of a number of such announcements, a glance at what our stellar staff has been up to of late, beginning with our Co-International Editor.
Hélène CardonaBirnam Wood (Salmon Poetry 2018), my translation of my father José Manuel Cardona’s El Bosque de Birnam (Consell Insular d’Eivissa 2007), won the Pinnacle Book Award for Best Bilingual Poetry Book, is a Finalist for 2019 Eric Hoffer Award and an Award-Winning Finalist in the Poetry category of the 2019 International Book Awards. It was also awarded a special Suk Honor. And I’ve been awarded the 2019 Naji Naaman Literary Prize.
Our cover art this month, as noted, comes from Andy Freeberg. Mr. Freeberg was born in New York City where he learned at an early age to be a critical observer of the world and the people in it. After studying at the University of Michigan, he began his professional photography career in New York taking portraits for such publications as The Village Voice, Rolling Stone, Time, and Fortune, photographing the likes of Michael Jackson, Bill Gates, and Neil Young. Freeberg has recently emerged on the contemporary art scene as a wry commentator on the art industry itself. Long fascinated with the gallery and museum worlds, he often turns his camera on the dealers, gallery patrons, artists, museum guards, and their interplay with the works of art themselves. His project Guardians, about the women that guard the art in Russian museums, won Photolucida’s Critical Mass book award and was published in 2010. Freeberg’s work is in many public and private collections including SFMOMA, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, The Portland Art Museum, the George Eastman House, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and Pier 24. Red more here, from Lens Culture.
And finally, per usual, a few new or new-ish releases from Plume contributors: