Like the proprietor of an old-time medicine show, Bruce Sievers of Hermosa Beach packs the tools of his trade in a neat aluminum suitcase and travels hundreds of miles each month. He visits towns large and small, performing for groups such as the Depression Glass Society, the Mayflower Descendants and the Mothers of Twins.
After each show, Sievers sets up shop. For $5 apiece, he sells his elixirs: booklets with such titles as "Happiness Attracts Happiness," "How Can I Say Forever?" and "An American in Love With His Country."
They are booklets of poetry. They make people happy. And, like the powders and balms of the medicine man, they sell.
Sievers earns his living--all of it--as a traveling poet. Although he will not divulge figures, a 1981 People magazine account says he sold 25,000 poetry booklets, calendars and cassettes in 1980 and grossed $150,000. Sievers says he averages $200 a performance, although he can earn up to $2,000 for a big convention.
He works eight months a year and, during busy periods, his manager books him for three performances a day, six days a week. He says he is so much in demand that he sometimes turns down work for lack of time. "It's a good living," is as specific as he will get.
Sievers is not, however, a Blake or a Frost or a Longfellow. His verses will never be found in a bookstore, nor will they ever be critically acclaimed. Once, Sievers sent a booklet to a college professor for a critique. The professor skewered him, and although the poet was hurt at first, he now finds himself agreeing with the assessment.
"It's exactly what that guy said--trivial, trite, hackneyed," he said. "But if, in order to be accepted by them, I have to write the way they do, I'd rather not be accepted."
Sievers' work is much like what one might find on a greeting card. In fact, he once wrote an entire line of greeting cards--60 or 70 poems--in an afternoon, although he never sold them. He said he was able to write them so quickly because, unlike much of the rest of his work, the greeting-card poems did not rhyme.
There are no depressing thoughts in Sievers' work; Sievers says he prefers to think of a glass as half full, rather than half empty. There are no big words; Sievers says he never liked high-brow poetry because he never understood it. In fact, he rarely reads high-brow poetry and went to his first formal poetry reading several weeks ago.
Sievers found the poetry too obscure, and they were not all that crazy about his. When Sievers read his verses on friendship and patriotism, one woman bowed her head and smirked. Afterward, Sievers skipped out early.
"It seems that the way some people write, they've got a thesaurus in one hand and a dictionary is the other. . . . I think that poetry should not be snobbish."
He calls his work "simple poetry." Here, for example, are Sievers' thoughts on friendship:
A friendship is a pact that you
never offend . . .
it began when we met and it may
never end . . .
and I give you a part of my life.
My mind will be with you though
we're miles apart . . .
remembering times that made you
a part of my heart . . .
and our problems were only a