Anyone who thinks poets are penniless souls who shiver alone consumptively in cold-water flats hasn’t met James Bruce Joseph Sievers. Last year the 33-year-old Californian sold 25,000 poetry booklets—plus calendars, posters and cassettes of his work—and grossed more than $150,000. Yet Sievers has never been reviewed in a major newspaper, never anthologized and never sold in bookstores. One of the country’s rare successful poets has made it not by literary excellence, but by his unabashed advocacy of a single theme: the joy of patriotism.
“We’re reacting against the negative spirit of the late ’60s and ’70s,” Sievers explains. “We’re tired of hearing people dump on our country.” His one-man show, An American in Love With His Country, plays nonstop to groups like Kiwanis Clubs, Daughters of the American Revolution and Veterans of Foreign Wars. His lyrics are mostly doggerel (Americans must strive/To keep America alive/For freedom can never be free), yet his ardent and earnest readings frequently bring standing ovations from misty-eyed audiences. In 1974 Congressman Barry Goldwater Jr. inserted one of Sievers’ poems into the Congressional Record, and this year Sievers was invited to the White House as poet laureate of National Patriotism Week.
Bruce, as his friends call him, grew up the son of an L.A. policeman who was also a general in the Army reserve. After dropping out of Cal State (Long Beach) and serving in the Green Beret reserves, though never in Vietnam, Sievers embarked on a coast-to-coast hitchhiking tour. There he found his muse, and soon he was arranging readings and peddling his poems. A married father with two sons, he is philosophical about his lack of critical esteem. “I don’t think the literary establishment will ever accept me,” he shrugs. “But if people stop buying my stuff, then I’ll really be hurt.”