At the age of 79, American poet Landis Everson will be publishing his first collection. A recipient of the Emily Dickinson First Book Award, an honour that celebrates the achievements of poets over the age of 50 who have yet to publish books, Everson collected his prize of $10,000 and an offer to publish his manuscript at a ceremony earlier this month.
Everson was an unsung member of the Berkeley Renaissance, a mid-century American literary movement that counts among its more acclaimed members such literary luminaries as Robert Duncan and Jack Spicer. However, unlike Duncan or Spicer, Everson lost his audience and impetus for writing when the group disbanded in 1961. He moved to San Luis Obispo, California, where he made his primary living buying and renovating old houses. Around 1994, he quit renovating, citing weakness and old age. “I was waiting to die,” he says in an article by Dinitia Smith of The New York Times, “very patiently, very agreeably, when the phone rang.”
Everson was rediscovered by Ben Mazer, a poet and editor who located Everson while writing an article about the Berkeley Renaissance. Mazer solicited old poems, got Everson to write new ones, and sent them all off to be considered for the Emily Dickinson Award, part of the Pegasus family of awards intended to honour under-recognized poets and forms. Other Pegasus awards include prizes in criticism and humorous poetry, as well as the Neglected Masters Award, which goes to a under-recognized yet significant American poet. Everson’s inaugural collection, entitled Everything Preserved: Poems 1955-2005, will be released by Graywolf Press.
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