William Everson Essay - Everson, William (Vol. 1)

Everson, William (Vol. 1)

Everson, William 1912– (also Brother Antoninus)

American poet, formerly associated with the San Francisco renaissance. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-10.)

I remember [Brother Antoninus] from several years back as William Everson, who wrote some of the first poetry I ever truthfully liked…. Everson is (or was) best in simple, tactile description. His poems in The Residual Years are unforced and open, and I renewed my acquaintance with many of them gladly, noting their imperfections and setting them aside in favor of the living quality that these pieces give off. And yet I was also struck, as I had been before, by the author's humorless, even owlish striving after self-knowledge and certainty, his intense and bitter inadequacy and frustration. I suppose I should have known, when I first read him fourteen years ago, that these problems would be resolved in religious orthodoxy, though I could not have guessed that Everson himself would become Brother Antoninus in the Catholic Church. In The Crooked Lines of God I encountered a good deal less of what I am pleased to call poetry than in The Residual Years, though if there were any justice there would be more. The verse here is of the kind I had hoped not to find: page after page of not-very-good, learned dry sermonizing which in several places leans toward an attitude which I cannot help believing is somewhat self-righteous and even self-congratulatory….

What Brother Antoninus offers, instead of the "vision" he speaks of, is a sober, unimaginative forth-rightness and a nagging insistence that he is right and you are, no matter what else you may believe, wrong. What I find peculiarly disagreeable in Brother Antoninus's work is his basic dislike of people and of sex, and this seems to me to be based at least as much on secular reasons as on religious…. [The] material offered here is much nearer to being apologetics than poetry. Worse; the author's determination to make his subjects as important and impressive as he believes they should be only succeeds in puffing them up into unbelievability.

James Dickey, "Brother Antoninus" (1960), in his Babel to Byzantium (reprinted with the permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.; © 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968 by James Dickey), Farrar, Straus, 1968, pp. 124-26.

Brother Antoninus (William Everson "in the world") has had a hard life, interiorly speaking. He has come through a lot of agony to present peace. Honesty, simplicity, modesty, complete commitment to communication—these are the outstanding virtues of good poetry in any case. In the telling of a spiritual odyssey of the sort Brother Antoninus has traveled these ten years since his last book, The Residual Years, they make all the difference. They make, in fact, a collection of poems [The Crooked Lines of God: Poems 1949–54] of stunning impact, utterly unlike anything else being written nowadays….

As far as his verse is concerned, Brother Antoninus is more or less a disciple of Robinson Jeffers, but I think he has made a harder and more honest instrument of it than his master.

Kenneth Rexroth, in his Assays (© 1961 by Kenneth Rexroth; reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation), New Directions, 1961, pp. 230-31.

The new collection [The Residual Years] is an occasion for rejoicing. Everson … seems to me one of the three or four most gifted poets of his generation. There is scarcely a dull page or line in this collection. The poems are written in a remarkably controlled unrhymed and cadenced verse. Most of them are related to haunting California landscapes and to the dilemma of a man for whom love of his native earth and love for women carry a strong sacramental sense but are rarely enough to heal an inner sense of alienation. Nevertheless, few poets have achieved the sense of healing from love, as well as division from love's failure, communicated by many of Everson's best poems…. The inner landscape of these poems is usually bleak and mournful, and the resulting narrow range of tone and material is their chief limitation.

Mordecai Marcus, "A Changing Art" (© 1970 by University of Nebraska Press; reprinted by permission from Prairie Schooner), in Prairie Schooner, Spring, 1970, pp. 79-80.