Each time I read a poem by Peter Everwine, my appreciation for his work deepens. They possess a quiet intensity that is both plain-spoken and mysterious. His phrasing is simple, straight-forward. His diction and thinking are complex. Edward Hirsch described his poems as containing “a luminous stillness.”
“The Marsh, New Year’s Day” is a good example of his work. In this poem, Mr. Everwine’s first three lines capture my complete attention. Written in the present tense, they radiate the energy of a visual artist’s gesture drawing. I am there. And I follow willingly into the memory of other mornings in the marsh, to a door that “slams and slams,” and old men “dying like rainbows.”
The Marsh, New Year’s Day
for Zach, among others
The slow, cold breathing.
Black surf of birds lifting away.
The light rising in the water’s skin.
How many times now, on a day like this,
I’ve entered the celebrations of the reeds,
waking by the wren’s broken house,
the frosty, burst phallus of the cattail.
In the marsh a door slams and slams.
Wherever I look
I see the old men
of my boyhood, wifeless and half-wild,
in stained canvas coats, dying like rainbows
from the feet up.
I am becoming one of them.
I highly recommend From the Meadow, Selected and New Poems (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004). About this collection, Philip Levine, Mr. Everwine’s long-time colleague at California State University, Fresno, wrote, “This collection presents all of Everwine’s poems that he still regards with affection in a career that spans forty years or more, many of the poems never collected before. It includes a few of his remarkable translations from the Hebrew as well as some of his interpretation of Nahuatl poems.”
At a recent workshop, I spoke with Fresno State alumnus David St. John about my admiration of Peter Everwine’s work. We talked specifically about the effect translating has on one’s own poetry. Mr. Everwine, David said, had been in long period of poetic silence when he began reading and interpreting poems from Nahuatl, the language of Mexico’s Aztecs. He emerged renewed.
Mr. Everwine is retired from teaching, but continues writing. His collaborations with poet and woodcut artist Gary Young are especially interesting. You can find their broadsides at www.suttonhoopress.com.