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Keeping the Night by Peter Everwine

16/03/2010

Keeping the Night
by
Peter Everwine
Atheneum (1977)

There’s really nothing better than a book designed and/or edited by Harry Ford, the creative and editorial mastermind who formed Atheneum’s reputation as one of the premier poetry publishers of its time. Genius is not a word to be thrown about lightly, but when it comes to the late Harry Ford, no other descriptor seems appropriate. Ford championed and edited (both at Knopf and Atheneum) poets such as Wallace Stevens, Mark Strand, Philip Levine, W.S. Merwin, Langston Hughes, and James Merrill. If you crack open Philip Levine’s Sweet Will (Atheneum, 1985) you’ll find that it’s dedicated to Ford (pictured below), a gesture not uncommon among the poets Ford worked with and fought for. Alas, Atheneum is no more. Atheneum was sold to Macmillan in the late 80s, a transaction that ended a significant chapter of Ford’s legacy as well as a major catalog of essential American poetry titles.

Keeping the Night is one of three books that Peter Everwine published with Atheneum. His first full-length collection, Collecting the Animals, was awarded the 1972 Lamont Poetry Selection. His translation of Israeli poet Natan Zach, The Static Element, was published in 1982, and marked the Hebrew-language poet’s first major publication in the US.

Everwine is a poet whose sparse style, dense images, and surrealistic leaping allow him to delve into the mysteries of an oftentimes dark human psyche. Everwine has the uncanny ability to combine the abstract with the real, a process that shows the reader both the balance and tension between the empirical and the mystical. Everwine seldom employs the narrative as a poetic device, though his writing suggests a sort of inner narrative, an interrogation between the speaker in the poem and his philosophical struggle to find meaning in both objects and ideas. Here are two poems representative of the work found in Keeping the Night:

IT WAS AUTUMN

It was autumn,
its iron gates darkening
with smoke and oils.

In the fields
the water turned in its nest,
the weed put down its plow and slept,
the minerals awakened.

In the heart of a tree
the moon was building a small fire.

And by its yellow light
the crickets assembled and read
from the book of crickets:

the generations
the labors
the black rains milling at sea.

*

DISTANCE

The light pulling away from trees,
the trees speaking in shadows
to whatever listens…

Something as common as water
turns away from our faces
and leaves.

The stars rise out of the hills
–old kings and animals
marching in their thin tunnels of light.

Once more I find myself
standing as on a dark pier, holding
an enormous rope of silence.

Though currently out of print, Keeping the Night is easy to find. There are several copies on abebooks for less than 10 dollars. Everwine’s first book, Collecting the Animals, which The Olives of Oblivion highly recommend, is currently available as a new reprint in the Carnegie Mellon Classic Contemporaries Poetry Series. Our hats off to Carnegie Mellon! Much to our delight, the University of Pittsburgh Press recently published his new and selected poems under the title From the Meadow. From the Meadow contains many of the poems found in Keeping the Night. Though his poetic output has been relatively small in terms of books published, Everwine’s contribution to contemporary poetry has been, and continues to be, vast.

*

The Olives of Oblivion was  an anonymous site dedicated to contemporary poetry that ran during 2008. The critics have permitted The Owls to revisit the essays.

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