Tag Archives: Bernice Lever

Chatting with Canadian Poet Bernice Lever

Gonna kick up these old heels/Swing on that shiny pine floor/Stamp feet to that drum beat./Oh, find some lovin’ galore* – Bernice Lever

 You won’t find Canadian poet Bernice Lever resting on her laurels in an easy chair. Even at the golden age of 80 plus years, she’s much too busy for that.

Berrnice Lever at World Peace Poets 6th Read-In October 6, 2018 in Bellingham, Washington Photo courtesy Ashok K. Bhargava

Canadian Poet Bernice Lever reads at World Peace Poets 6th Read-In, October 6, 2018 in Bellingham, Washington. Photo courtesy of Ashok K. Bhargava

In addition to working on her 11th book of poetry expected to be published in 2019, she is still giving readings and workshops. Earlier this month, she was one of six Canadian and 31 American poets to read at the World Peace Poets 6th Read-In in Bellingham, Washington.  Two of her poems featured at that event will be published in a December chapbook.

Tamaracks - Lummox Press 2018 - front cover

Lever is one of 113 Canadian poets from Halifax to Vancouver published in TAMARACKS: Canadian Poets for the 21st Century (Lummox Press 2018)

Additional work recently appeared in two anthologies published by Lummox Press in San Pedro, California: LUMMOX Number 7 and TAMARACKS: Canadian Poetry for the 21st Century. She also had four poems featured in Delicate Impact, an anthology released by Beret Days Press in the summer

In April, the League of Canadian Poets highlighted her poem “Not Just My Bunions” for Poem In Your Pocket Day. (Read more here.) Plus one of her poems was selected for Poetry Pause the League’s new on-line showcase to be launched this November.

Recently, she was welcomed to share her praise of her multi-talented publisher, Marty Gervais and of his five decades of leading Black Moss Press and his national prize winning literary magazine. This coming book is edited by well-known writer Bruce Meyer.

Bernice Lever has made such an extensive contribution to the literary community that several organizations including the League, the Canadian Authors Association, and The Ontario Poetry Society have honoured her with Life Memberships.

I recently chatted with Bernice about her literary life, philosophy, and future goals.

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Canadian poet Bernice Lever – Photo by Juergen Bruhns

Thanks Bernice for taking time from your busy day to chat about writing. Let’s start with your philosophy. On your website www.colourofwords.com, you stated that “structure and form add clarity and creativity to our thoughts. Both music and message – even fun/pun – of words delight” you. You are “interested in idiomatic and/or conversational language rooted in the images of the 5 concrete senses to compress life’s experiences and emotions to lyrics that illuminate.” Why are these concepts so important to you?

The sounds, words and music of our first dozen or even 20 years [of our lives] have a major effect on our personalities.

In fact, music of songs and rhythms are an international language that most children learn before words.

Plus idiomatic / conversational / even slang language of an era or generation is true to that time and those people. Even each sibling in a family has variances with each other.

I try to be aware of my surroundings in sounds, smells, tastes, textures, and colours and shapes. Noticing details stops too much replaying of past memories — especially negative ones over and over. Memory is not a problem solver. Awareness of the NOW and creativity can solve much.

Learning to live in PEACE or not, happens in a family or close knot setting LONG before one gains a university degree or even a paying occupation.

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Lever’s poem “Mamma’s goin’ dancin’ tonight” appears in the anthology EnCompass 1 (Beret Days Press, 2013)

Your work including your poetry is indeed accessible and easily understood by the general public. Often, you inject humour in your work. In the anthology EnCompass 1, the poem “Momma’s Goin’ Dancin’ Tonight” has a unique rhyming scheme. The first verse has an ABCB pattern followed by AABB, then ABBA, and ABAB. A chorus bridges all the verses together. The majority of your work is in free verse form but you’re not afraid to write and publish rhyming material. How do you decide when a poem requires a rhyme or when it should be expressed in free verse?

 A poem chooses its own form! Mainly I use internal rhyme or repeat sounds to unify a poem. As a poet, I find poems come to me best, upon waking and sometimes I write before rising, before breakfast or coffee BUT not every day. (We all have different body rhythms to our personal creative hours!) Then I read my poems and ones by other poets, before I walk about my house reciting aloud or quietly editing any time of day. When I’m away from home, I always have a small tablet in my purse, ready for a good line. A few words can give birth to a new poem days later: let it grow roots and bloom in its own season.

In an age when family sometimes takes a back seat to work responsibilities, you’ve managed to set your priorities in such a way that family remains an important aspect of your life and your writing themes. Why does family factor so prominently in your work?  

Family is the central life of all cultures. Even if one is an only child or adopted, we all have GENES from two parents and four grandparents. We are not plastic cookie cutter made—even if we live on the same block or winding road.

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Bernice often injects humour into her work. Photo taken in New Westminster. Photo by Juergen Bruhns

Also, I consider myself a People’s Poet. I am not an academic poet – in love with the Greek and Latin classics or other set schools of writing – I can only feel comfortable writing what I know from LIFE more than from book learning or class room lectures.

Would you call yourself a feminist? Why or why not?

 I am not trendy about gender! I love men of all ages and of many types. Yet I belong to the Feminist Caucus of the League of Canadian Poets. Let’s say I support  #WEtoo – as I have always worked for equality for the sexes—- in jobs, in committees, in leaderships.

Who is your literary hero or who has influenced you the most?

My hero was an early mentor, Irving Layton—as I took two classes with him and was in the class editors’ group for our annual booklet which led some of us to start WAVES, Fine Canadian Writing, at York University from 1972 to 1987. Layton stressed honesty in emotions and to be fearless against CURRENT TRENDS to be “polite and gentle, or seem weak” – that pleased gentile reviewers.

My heroines were Dorothy Livesay, Margaret Laurence and Miriam Waddington, writers I knew from the classroom, readings, friendships, and from their books!

Photo 14 Great Canadian PoeTrain Tour 2015 reading with Bernice Lever in Stanley Park in Vancouver - Photo by Okun Hill

Great Canadian PoeTrain Tour 2015 reading with Pat Connors and Bernice Lever, Stanley Park, Vancouver, British Columbia. Photo by Okun Hill

You have also been a role model for emerging writers. What advice would you give to a new poet interested in publishing his/her first book?

The Canadian Writers Guides, a Canadian Authors Association publication was a major support for writers in the 1990s. There’s no collection like it today. You can still find it in academic libraries. Random material and advice can also be found on the internet.

Most of all: be patient. Just ENJOY writing poems for your own delight.

What’s next for Bernice Lever in terms of your life and/or your literary aspirations?

My focus is to sort/organize my library papers—-for possible University literary archives.

My donation of 15 years of editing at WAVES: a complete collection of 45 copies—a tri-annual—is with York University archives now.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers?

Editor Hadda Sendoo of the World Poetry Almanac has included two of my PEACE poems, a short biography and an interview with me in No. 7 to be launched this fall 2018.

I was also in the 2017 edition which features some 100 poems from over 70 countries.

Thanks Bernice for sharing your experiences and knowledge. I wish you much success with your future projects.

You are an inspiration to so many writers!

Lever is a great grandmother of three and creates poetry on Bowen Island, BC. Her most recent and 10th poetry book was Small Acts, Black Moss, 2016. (A review of that book appears here.)

Small Acts by Bernice Lever

Small Acts (Black Moss Press, 2016) is Lever’s 10th book.

Her travels allowed her to read poems on five continents. Her English composition book (now a free PDF) is The Colour of Words. 

Although she is active in many Canadian national writing organizations, she is delighted to be on the B C coast again, writing and performing PEACE poems internationally. Additional information about Lever can be found on her website: www.colourofwords.com,

As John B. Lee, Poet Laureate of The City of Brantford wrote on the back cover of her latest book Small Acts, “Bernice Lever writes beautifully of water, the ocean, the amniotic mother of all life, of the need for kindness, the deep and abiding life-sustaining quality of love, love of humanity, love for one another, love of our planets, our earth, our hydro biological future threatened by being careless, indifferent, and thereby behaving like a futureless species”.

*from the poem “Momma’s goin’ dancin’ tonight” reprinted in the anthology EnCompass 1 (Beret Days Press, 2013) page 33 and first published in Blessings (Black Moss Press, 2007). Reprinted with the author’s permission: Copyright © Bernice Lever, 2013

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#pocketpoem with Canadian Poet Bernice Lever

Have you checked your pockets lately? Today (April 26) is Poem In Your Pocket Day and The League of Canadian Poets is encouraging bards (and the general public) to “carry a poem, share a poem, or even start your own Poem In Your Pocket event.”

Anything can happen during National Poetry Month!

Poem in Your Pocket 2018 - Not Just My Bunions by Bernice Lever

What a surprise! A postcard with the poem “Not Just My Bunions” by Bernice Lever arrived in my mailbox this week.

A few days ago, to my surprise, an unusual postcard appeared in my mailbox. On the front of the card was a poem: “Not Just My Bunions” by Bernice Lever. I laughed! Move over Rupi Kaur, the Indian-Canadian poet who recently became a household name penning poems about menstrual cycles and other intimate bodily concerns. Kaur’s books Milk and Honey (which I did read) and The Sun and Her Flowers (which I may not read) have attracted large followings by the general public.

Forward-thinking and daring poet Bernice Lever also likes to push the boundaries of what is acceptable: her postcard poem about bunions and crooked noses originally appeared in her book Yet Woman I Am (Highway BookShop Press, 1979) and just a few years ago, in her 10th book Small Acts (Black Moss Press, 2016) she penned in her poem “Faceless – Too Many Proposals”: “I am only 80, but I shock listeners & readers,/by my descriptions of delicious orgasms at 90!”

Both women write edgy (and accessible) work. Not everyone will like this type of poetry just like not everyone likes rhyming poetry or the obscure verse analyzed in high school literature classes. However, that is the beauty of poetry. I have a philosophy, “if you don’t like poetry, you haven’t read the right poem yet. Poetry is as varied as music, as art, as dance.”

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Canadian poet Bernice Lever feels honoured and delighted that her poem was one of 20 Canadian works featured in this year’s Poem in Your Pocket Day literature. Photo by Juergen Bruhns

Lever’s work can also be humorous and inspirational. Her contributions to the literary scene are far reaching and according to her author bio: “she has won four Lifetime Achievement awards including the Canadian Author Association (CAA) Sangster Award, 2005.

Back to the postcard: what a great way to share and introduce poems with the public! On the other side of Lever’s postcard poem is a note: “This postcard showcases one of 20 poems selected by The League of Canadian Poets to celebrate the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month in Canada: hand it out, drop it off, or send it to a friend.”

So here’s my plan. I’ve decided to share the postcard on my blog with the hope that others will take the poem (and/or this blog) and share it today as part of the #pocketpoem celebration! It’s just a small act of kindness which leads me back to Bernice Lever again!

To fully appreciate Lever, visit her Colour of Words website . A year ago, I wrote a review for her 10th poetry collection Small Acts. It is reprinted below with permission from The Ontario Poetry Society and the editor of Verse Afire where the review first appeared in the May to August 2017 issue.

Book Review

Small Acts by Bernice Lever; Black Moss Press, 2017, 68 pages; I.S.B.N. 978-0-88753-571-0    

“Oh, Mother Ocean, we’re sorry,” laments Canadian poet Bernice Lever in the opening environmental-themed poem of her 10th and most recent book. Not only does this award-winning and prolific author dive deep into her poetic “wave of words” but she skillfully breaststrokes through an additional 40 poems seamlessly harboured in such sections as ‘Water Wisdom’, ‘Love and Gambles’, ‘Poets and Fakes’. In her closing poem, she quips “Great Grannies are the latest in-demand category”. Heartfelt experiences matter.

Small Acts by Bernice Lever

Small Acts is Bernice Lever’s 10th book. It was published by Black Moss Press in 2016.

Titled Small Acts, Lever’s 68-page poetry collection compliments the Random Acts of Kindness movement, like a lifesaving buoy, where strangers go out of their way to help other strangers. Using accessible yet precise words to describe complex concepts such as concern for the environment, peace, love, and even the ramifications of social media, Lever often asks questions, shares humorous tongue-in-cheek rants and provides serious lessons based on her observations. For example, “may our words on water not sink”, “Be a peace gardener”, “Be an anger soother”. In the poem “Say ‘Thank You’, she concludes: “Gifts – all these are given to preserve/our many blessings of being alive.”

Her best poetic lines twist and swirl the imagination: “The glow from mom’s eyes/some where between warm caramel/and creamy cocoa” and “We pray for lashes of rain/deep puddles everywhere,/day long torrents of Heaven’s tears.”. In addressing Facebook, she rants, “You are a fake book, all blank pages for us/to donate our fake lives.”

Written by an experienced and life member of The Ontario Poetry Society and many other literary organizations, Small Acts nudges the reader to “float free”, to create word-waves, to turn this world into a better place.

I’m looking forward to chatting with Bernice during a less busy time.  A Q & A will be posted soon. Follow this blog for an update.

Get more poems in your pockets!

Additional information about Poem In Your Pocket Day, more postcards as well as the full selection of postcard poems can be found on The League of Canadian Poets website.

Check the resources available to teachers.

And finally, as the League reminds us: “if you’re participating online, be sure to tag @CanadianPoets and use the hashtags #NPM18 and #pocketpoem!”

National Poetry Month Events:

Here are additional reminders of other National Poetry Month events taking place in the London and Sarnia area:

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National Poetry Month 2018 officially started on April 1, 2018 and will continue until the end of the month.

Tonight (April 26) from 6 to 7 p.m., the COUPLETS: a collaborative poetry reading series will present Andy Verboom and Angie Quick for this month’s feature at The Arts Project on 203 Dundas Street in London, Ontario. Please note the last-minute change in the featured readers. More info about Couplets can be found here.

This Saturday, April 28, Sarnia-Lambton’s #NPM18 event will feature out-of-town readers Marty Gervais, Kateri Lanthier, and Laurie Smith and local poets Ryan Gibbs, Lois Nantais and Grace Vermeer at the Famous Room in John’s Restaurant, 1643 London Line in Sarnia. A pre-reading dinner that allows audience members to mingle with the guest readers will begin at 5 p.m. with the free reading to start at 6:30 p.m. (Please note: the earlier start-time for the dinner.) This National Poetry Month reading is made possible with financial assistance from The League of Canadian Poets.

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Happy National Poetry Month Everyone!