[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] looks a bit like Abbie Hoffman but sounds more like Barry Goldwater.
Sievers is the poet-laureate of National Patriotism Week, which is happening all around us right now, from Mount Vernon and the Pentagon to Capitol Hill and the White House. Sievers, who claims his books of poems sell between 20,000 and 30,000 copies a year, has been reading his patriotic lines all over town this week -- particularly a blockbuster called "America": "There's no country on earth like the land of our birth . . . We're Amerians and we're proud to be. But if you had a dollar . . . how you'd scream and you'd holler if someone tried to take it away."
That poem "makes shivers run up my back," says Rep. Glenn Anderson (R-Calif.). He particulary likes the last line, "For freedom can never be free."
Sievers has expected to climax his visit with a reading yesterday at the White House. At the last minute the reading was canceled, as was a Arizona, when the guest of honor, President Ronald Reagan made a quick exit.
Reagan dropped in for about 10 minutes at the Rose Garden, where a group of National Patriotism Week supporters had gatherd to meet him. "I'd like to quote a letter I got from a 9-year-old girl who wrote to tell me what I should do as president," he said. "She finished by saying, 'Now, get back to the Oval Office and get to work,' and that's what I'm going to do."
"I came expecting to read," said Sievers, who was decked out in a mod three-piece suit for the occasion, "but that was never made firm and was canceled at the last minute. He's a very busy man, of course," He looked down thoughtfully at an expensively framed, red, white and blue poster of "America" and shook his head slowly. "We were going to give him this," he said. "Well, now I can keep it for muself. I kind of wanted to."
Bruce Sievers does not look like the kind of person you expect to see as an almost-speaker at the Reagan White House. His straight black hair hangs down to his shoulders in the back, he wears a moustache in the Fu Manchu style but a little thicker (a sort of fortified Fu Manchu) and in his relaxed moments he usually wears jeans with a cowboy shirt, mostly unbuttoned, and an Aries medallion hanging on a chain.
The revolution for which he has become a spokesman is what SDS diehards would probably call a counter-revolution. Under the vaguely '60s-hippie exterior of Bruce Sievers beats a 32-year-old heart in love with his wife, Linda, proud as a peacock of his infant son and full almost to bursting with the glory of being an American.
"Every generation seems to react against the previous generation," Seivers says, trying to explain the popularity of his patriotic poetry. "What we're doing now is reacting against the negative spirit of the late '60s and '70s. We're tierd of hearing people dump on our country; we want to be proud of what we are, and we have a right to be proud."
Sievers, who says he now gives about 1,000 poetry readings per year under the title, "An American in Love with His Country," was not a born superpatriot, although his father is Brig. Gen. Darel Sievers, who until his recent retirement held two simulaneous and compatible jobs: commander of the 63rd Army Reserve Command (all the reserve units on the West Coast) and director of the tactical planning division of the Los Angeles Police Department.
With that kind of family background, Sievers did not try to evade military service during the Vietnam War, although he says he found life in the army "a wierd experience."
"My father was a general," he says, "and he gave a lot of commands around the house. I didn't always like them, but at least he would explain them. In the army, I had sergeants who didn't explain their commands and perhaps couldn't. If their IQs were four points lower, some of them would have been napkins."
When he mustered out of the army, in 1970 at age 22, Sievers was still not a superpatriot. What happened was that he met small-town America -- more or less by accident -- and fell in love with it. "I hitchhicked 45,000 miles through 42 states in a period of 10 months before I had to go home. I was still a member of the Army Reserves and my father was the commander and he insisted I should go to the meetings every week."
During his trans-American odyssey, Sievers says, he felt "like Huckelberry Finn on the Mississippi. It was a whole new world to me; I had never known what a big, beautiful country we live in. I kept a journal of the whole trip, and after a while, to make it interesting, I started keeping it in rhyme. I'm not sure why; I was an English major in college, but I never liked poetry or wanted to be a poet. There were only two images of the poet that I knew of; the beatniks of the '60s or someone like Wally Cox with a briefcase, and that wasn't me."
But all of a sudden he was back home in California with a bundle of poems and no job, and he decided to try to survive on his writing. "All my life," he say, "I dreamed of earning a living doing something I like. Baseball was my first choice. Before going into the army, I had managed a golf course -- actually a driving range --- where I could hit all the golf balls I wanted and get paid for it. I like that golf part all right, but hated the management."
Nonetheless, he decided to become his own manager, publisher, promoter and even calligrapher in the effort to market his poems. First, he sent them out to the publishers, who sent them back unopened. Then he decided to do it himself.
"My brother worked in a print shop and we could use it at night and on weekends, so I started printing out my poems in a kind of Old English script, and we ran them off on the press. I lived in a garage that I rented from friends for $20 a month, and I started calling women's clubs and other organizations that hire speakers. 'My name is John Williams,' I would tell them, 'and I represent the poet James Bruce Joseph Sievers. He is available to do a program for your club if you're interested.' At first, I felt lucky if I got one program in six months. I would work for no fee if they would let me sell my books afterwards. Now, I charge a fee except for senior citizens or other groups that don't have any money, and I have to turn down a lot of engagements, but I still sell my books afterward, and I'm selling between 20,000 and 30,000 per year."
When he began to get affluent, Sievers bought the small print shop where his brother was working. Now, he has 12 collections of his poetry in print, and although he claims to sell more then practically any other poet except Rod McKuen (whom he has taken as his model), you can't find his books in any bookstore. If you don't get them at one of his readings, you have to order them from the Skybird Publishing Co., which he runs from his home in El Sugundo, Calif.
He once had his poems sent to a college professor, who sent them back labeled "trite . . . hackneyed . . . facile . . . " terms that anyone with serious literary credentials would echo. The techinical term for what Sievers writes is "doggerel." It is written to be heard more than read, because somehow when Sievers is reciting it -- with the intensity of an evangical preacher -- you either don't notice or you don't mind that he is rhyming "life" with "trifle" and "fear" with "mirror"; that he twists the natural order of words to get a rhyme at the end of a line, or that his meters are only approximate.
What sells his poetry are the sentiments it expresses -- sentiments on friendship, love of country, the goodness of people and hard work and self-respect that nearly anyone will agree with immediately. "Outside of being a poet, I'm really quite normal," he likes to say. His poetry does not detract from that description.
As for the critics, he would like to convert them, too, but he accepts criticism with a shrug. "If 95 percent of the people like my poetry," he says, "I guess I'll just have to get along without the other 5 percent." "Free enterprise gives us a chance to fail so we can be proud when we succeed . . . And if we fail -- we can start overnot out of vanity -- not out of greed. But simply so I can be my own boss and work or rest as I just choose with no one but me to credit or blame if I succeed or if I lose."