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Sylvia, Margaret & Bernice

Bernice Lever got her start in the B.C. writing scene at a Black Mountain Summer workshop at UBC in 1963

September 15th, 2014

As a young poet Bernice Lever met Margaret Laurence but missed Sylvia Plath by mere months.

That summer she made a life-long contact with Margaret Avison and soon got to meet Allen Ginsberg, Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, Charles Olson & Denise Levertov.


Lever left for England, hoping to meet Sylvia Plath, but never did. Years later she talked with Margaret Laurence about how Plath’s death affected them both as young women with two children each, wanting to be writers. Laurence told her of her difficulties being both a wife and a novelist. Whereas Laurence veered increasingly towards the novelist role, Bernice Lever, born in Smithers, chose the motherhood route in those days.

“I do not regret my choice,” she says. One of her poems in Imagining Lives was addressed to Plath, whom she described as “a 20th Century Poetic Comet.” Recalling the summer of 1963, Lever added: “we were just young mothers / struggling to find words / for the poems raging inside / of us.”

Lever cover RedLetterDayNow, with three grown children, Bernice Lever, at 78, is making up for lost writing time.  She has just released her 15th book, Red Letter Day (Black Moss Press, 2014), her latest poetry collection. She continues to very active in the Vancouver writing scene, often commuting to town from her home on Bowen Island.

When asked to comment on her career as a poet, at 4 a.m. she wrote a sonnet shaped liked this:

14 Line Non-Sonnet or Endless Raving Rant

Poet as personality   extraordinaire

Poet as publicist   a no-Fault ME cult member

Poet as performer   better than TV comedy applause

Poet as producer   of endless fodder for essays

Poet as perpetrator causing verbal riots

Poet as pimp   filling your emptiness

Poet as pepper   healthier than salt

Poet as peeping Tom   or gossip Mary

Poet as perfume   beguiling your senses

Poet as problem   unsolvable syntax

Poet as penniless   joining the masses worldwide

Poet as pain   to very prose brain

Poet as professor better than confessor

Poet as promoter of self   until no audience

Poet as pill-popper   until no poet

Poet as prophet   an enigma easy to ignore

Poet as puzzle   cruel search for your life-centring poem

And she added:

Fill in your entry: POET as ______________     Win my poetry book!

9780887535406

[Photo by Una and Juergen Bruhns]

5 Responses to “Sylvia, Margaret & Bernice”

  1. Poet as reader, striving to catch up.

  2. Lorraine Hart says:

    Poet as prompter punches your ticket

  3. poet as pomegranate; seeds of thought; poetic pulp

  4. Paul Nelson says:

    POET as musician, playing personal myth as melody. Did you dig up those old journals from 1963 yet? Many Blessings, Paul Nelson, Seattle, WA

  5. Pauline Rochon says:

    HI Bernice, How about Poet as Pandora opening the illicit jar.
    Hugs, Pauline http://www.paulinelebel.com

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