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
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.”
Now, 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!
[Photo by Una and Juergen Bruhns]