Sunday, December 20, 2015

Listening Long and Late - Peter Everwine (Pitt Poetry Series)

Today's book of poetry:
Listening Long and Late.  Peter Everwine.  Pitt Poetry Series.  University of Pittsburgh Press.  Pittsburgh, P.A.  2013.

Man, oh man.  If you've got something to say it wouldn't hurt to mention it around Peter Everwine, that cat is listening.  Everwine seems to have heard everything from the sound of the blood cursing through your very veins to the silent voices of the buzzards who feed off of the dead.

What this witless and inarticulate blogger wants to tell you about is how unnervingly articulate Listening Long and Late is on every page.  Everwine is an everyman voice filtered through a good scholar's wisdom.  His ear is firmly to the ground but his brain knows what Zarathustra mused.

Elegy For The Poet Charles Moulton

When we were last together,
you read me your latest poem from a sheaf
of hand-scrawled pages, dog-eared
and rolled together by a rubber band.
You didn't ask me to look at it.
We both knew why: I thought a catfish
had a better grasp of English spelling;
you thought my soul had narrowed
from too many years in a classroom.
Yours was a freedom one might envy,
listening to your drawl of gravelly music,
that wild guffaw when a line pleased you.
I have a photo of you, taken
on some mountain -- big grin,
arms held out wide, you're dancing a jig
buck-naked in your broken boots
and there's so much joy in your grizzled face
I have to turn away.
You look like you're getting ready to fly.


Today's book of poetry is a big fan of hope in poetry, joy too.  Everwine has joy and hope in abundance but it never comes at the cost of reason.  He knows it all comes at a cost.  Sorrow and the inevitable slide towards the long dirt nap, it's all in here - but with Everwine's keen ear and deadly sense of humour we can accept certain inevitabilities.

These poems are grounded in faith but there is no preaching here.  Listening Long and Late is no sermon, these songs come from a respected elder.  If there is any pretense in these poems Today's book of poetry couldn't find it.

Today's book of poetry is a sucker for particular specifics.  Our friend and mentor Stuart Ross has suggested that I am particularly susceptible to any mention of Charlie Parker (he's in one of these splendid poems), Lester Young, Coltrane, and he is right.  But I'm also a fall on the floor sucker for old timey country and bluegrass.

The Banjo Dream

One morning Earl Scruggs sits up in bed, reaches for his fa-
mous banjo and plays nine consecutive wrong notes to a tune
he's known all his life. What's happening? he cries, holding up
his hands, which he no longer recognizes. Meanwhile, thou-
sands of miles away, I have awakened from a disturbing dream
to discover that my hands--they no longer seem mine--have
become thick-veined and tremble on my quilt like small horses
in the starting gates. I am suddenly overwhelmed by happi-
ness. Everything lies open before me: Days. Blue distances.
The song that will unlock the gates of paradise.


I had to assign Milo to the task of deciphering from the Nahuatl, I knew he'd spent considerable time in the Valley of Mexico.  Kathryn looked after the Hebrew and did some research on Yaakov Orland before this mornings read.  What we all agreed on was how deceptively simple these beautifully crafted poems are.  The bite in these poems is so deft you don't feel the pinch but you do feel the anti-venom thundering through your veins.  You feel wiser.

The Train Station of Milan

Leaving Milan, what I remember
is the old man in a blue cap
who stood apart from the press of travelers,
waving goodbye as if bereft.

In the failing light of that winter day,
framed by the great vault of the station
and growing smaller in the distance,
he seemed already blurred with Time.

I was young then, with few cares
and a suitcase full of destinations.
I gave him little thought in passing.
The old man surely is dead now,

and I am of the age he was
when I first saw him -- as I see
him now -- that winter afternoon
in Milan, his hand extended, palm up,

his fingers opening and closing,
as if he were setting free something
he held, if only for a moment,
then beckoning it to come back.


Watching and listening is something but it is not enough.  Someone has to give it all meaning by understanding what it is we need to be better miners, to be better caretakers, to be better.  Listening Long and Late is a strong step in that direction.  This is sublime work by a learned and generous heart.

Today's book of poetry takes heart, poems like these give us all hope.

Peter Everwine

Peter Everwine is the author of seven previous poetry collections, including From The Meadow and Collecting the Animals, which won the Lamont Poetry Prize in 1972.  Everwine is the recipient of numerous honours, including two Pushcart Prizes, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, and fellowships from the NEA and the Guggenheim Foundation.  He is emeritus professor of English at California State University, Fresno, and was a senior Fulbright lecturer in American poetry at the University of Haifa, Israel.

“What a rich array of music lies within Listening Long and Late. With refreshing authenticity, Everwine weds playfulness to practice, lyricism to narrative, pathos to the ordinary. Indeed, he has listened ‘long and late’ to the music of such venerable masters as Tu Fu, the hidden genius on the street, and the anonymous Aztec poets of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Everwine writes with the same ‘deified heart’ that divines the mystery of his quotidian subjects in a language that is at once plain and poetic. His own work seamlessly segues into his translations from the Hebrew and Nahuatl, as if all the poems belonged to the same poet, which they in fact do, as the glorious multitudes of Peter Everwine, one of the masters of our age.”
     — Chard deNiord

“The poems in Peter Everwine’s Listening Long and Late are woven out of memory and mystery, with surprising translations from the Nahuatl and Hebrew. Everwine is a faithful listener, always keeping ‘one ear cocked for the unsayable.’ These elegiac poems murmur and sing and celebrate the most humble creatures among us.”
     — Anne Marie Macari

“[Everwine’s] poems . . . possess the simplicity and clarity I find in the great Spanish poems of Antonio Machado and his contemporary Juan Ramón Jimenez but in contemporary English and in the rhythms of our speech, that rhythm glorified.” 
     — Philip Levine, Ploughshares

“Peter Everwine is a poet’s poet, the kind of writer other poets read with equal parts of envy, gratitude, and joy. . . . [His] poems are crystalline, pared to essentials; they are heartrending, and they are beautiful.”
     — Gary Young

Peter Everwine
Video:  Poetrymind


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