Everson, Ronald G(ilmour)
Ronald G(ilmour) Everson 1903–
Although Everson has been writing for more than fifty years, he has received little critical recognition. A number of critics who have reviewed Everson's work express bewilderment at his long neglect, for they feel that he is one of Canada's finest contemporary poets.
Everson's poetry is marked by strong images and pared-down lyrics. Most of his poems are short and display specificity of time and place. Everson often uses Canada as his subject and juxtaposes current scenes of rural Canada with historical and literary allusions.
Although Everson published four previous collections, he has received most critical attention for Selected Poems 1920–1970 (1970).
(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-20, rev. ed.)
R. G. Everson is a Canadian poet, one of those almost-greatly-gifted writers from North of the Border, like Earle Birney, P. K. Page, Louis Dudek, A. M. Klein, and Irving Layton, who keep promising to give us a truly exciting national movement, and may yet. Everson at his best, is, I think, about as good as the best of these at their best, and since I like Birney, Miss Page, and Klein very much, I mean well by this. He is doubly interesting because he is in his fifties, and writes with the brashness and chance-taking-ness of extreme, belligerent, and intelligent youth. [A Lattice for Momos] brings to mind all sorts of remarks one could make about how poetry can furnish a second youth to people who discover that they are poets well on into life, and about how much this attitude and these qualities should be encouraged in those who have them. I prefer, though, to talk about Everson's particular case, and to say something about his hard-headed business-like way of getting his feelings down, and to let him show how surprisingly much this can yield in a short space…. Reading [his poetry], one declares eternal war against the weeping-willow-haired type of poet full of vague fantasies and admirable sentiments, like Shelley, and thinks of practicality as one of the greatest of the artistic virtues, and as underlying all real imagination. Even though Everson is practical in this way, he can also be very flat. But, as Louis Dudek says in a brief, sharp introduction, he also has a "sense of lived reality" in his poems, and that is what we want. As of now, Everson has just enough of the amateur about him to make his work interesting; I shudder to think of what might happen to him should he become a "professional poet." No matter what changes or developments he may go through, Everson has already said a few things uniquely and memorably. (pp. 666-67)
James Dickey, "The Suspect in Poetry or Everyman As Detective" (reprinted by permission of the author; © 1967 by James Dickey), in The Sewanee Review, Vol. LXVIII, No. 4, Autumn, 1960, pp. 660-74.∗
M. J. Sidnell
[Wrestle With An Angel] is Mr. Everson's fourth offering. Three Dozen Poems (1957), A Lattice for Momos (1958), and Blind Man's Holiday (1963) received their due tributes for the precision, unity, wit and economy of the poems collected in them. The reader knowing and expecting this good craftsmanship and seeing it emerge so clearly from the present bouts with reality might take a sampling and see the collection as more of the same—a series of poems picking out in flashes of brilliance the involuted parts of a world. But a sampling could mislead. Wrestle with an Angel has a coherence as a whole which makes it a notable development from the earlier collections. There is throughout a sense of philosophical assurance; the images do not twinkle in isolation but as a galaxy whose shape is discernible. (p. 235)
Everson's beings have that loosely articulated unity within themselves that Golding's Pincher Martin has in the collection of lives that make his individuality: soul-life, nerve-lives of eye or finger-tip, will and mental-life….
Everson constantly hints, sometimes more than hints, at horror, when, for instance, "The French are blowing up our mail-box duns" and in the same poem, "Sigmund Freud comes crawling through our bed." In "With Burney and Dudek on Mount Royal" the horror seems to triumph but in "Daybreak at the maternity ward" the agony is glorious, stretching the...
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Going through [Everson's] four most recent collections I was aware of a true line of development. The poems of A Lattice for Momos (1958) are strong as individual things. They are occasional poems in the best sense. A bus ride, a lady stripper, a coffee with the poetry society, can start the Everson alchemy. Into the confined space of the occasion and the reduced physical form, he pours a disparate mix of associations, which in uneasy dancing suspension there (his kinetic jostling of word on word) fight it out. The encompassing spirit is still delight. (p. 118)
The view of things darkens and intensifies in Blind Man's Holiday (1963). The energy, now directed forward, is stronger and less overtly exultant. The poet still romps with the medium, showing a more than usual security in his craft. Occasions continue to give rise to poems, but the vision is more clearly a fusing one—the delight and fear or fearful delight of seeing all matters as inextricable…. The voice is pure Everson, though the wit and the close packing in of detail, often of a curiously unpoetic kind, is Marianne Mooreish.
Wrestle with an Angel (1965) doesn't wrestle as closely as Blind Man's Holiday. Something of the blessing won is here. The tone is more relaxed, the juxtaposing eye less astringent. The economy is still close, but there is a personal human voice and touch reaching through. (p. 119)
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Everson has been writing these how many years … quietly minding his poetic business at Montreal; making forays like Daniel into the prides of Canadian poets wherever gathered to decide the world and to read each other's latest; quietly publishing his poems in books published by the littler presses without what he is expert in and has always been retired from, fanfare.
Here, now, is the chance to get him straight in our minds: his Selected Poems of exactly fifty years. Good grief! We haven't acknowledged him in half a century, when he has been going so well, leading us into all sorts of actuality? (p. 65)
Whoever reads this poet is going to have to face up to it: the world is affirmative. The one great thing wrong with it, besides our own stupidity and the occasional hunchback, is that our time in it is too brief for us to get our fill of love. Everson is very out of fashion. He does not use the state of the world to exonerate his follies.
He just validates actual experience with significance; take it or leave it. He takes it with love. Plumed rhubarb blazes above his head; he suffers an apprehension of petals lest the mind open with intuitions and imaginings.
You can tell, leafing it through this book, that something vital is going on; something gay—like those wrinkled Chinese sitting looking at the lapis lazuli world; also something as dark as that light under that closed closet door. Like his housefly set free, he is blustering alive.
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[It] is impossible to conceive of a reason to forge larger, more complex units out of R. G. Everson's brief, sufficient lyrics. [In his Selected Poems 1920/1970, this] Canadian gives us over one hundred poems in less than ninety pages. They are lonely poems, featuring a speaker who must face a new part of a familiar country, or who discovers a moment of historical consciousness buried below the mundane hours of commerce. If one assumes that a half-century of work is here arranged chronologically, Everson seems to have moved toward more open, but unsurprising, forms. He has not abandoned his essential lyric syntax: beginning with closely observed and deftly placed facts and remembrances, letting metaphoric structure occur casually, the poem takes a modest but firm jump onto the anagogic plane…. Like certain American poets such as David Ignatow, Everson engages a quotidian reality through the expressive gestures of idiomatic speech. His syntax, therefore, is not as careful, nor is his "analysis" of reality as polished as [Leslie] Norris's, or [Tony] Connor's, even. Yet through his poems we have a habitable space in which we can visit, catching ourselves in the traffic of the moment or snatching views of another time and another place. His poems are filled with Canadian landscapes, especially so in recent years, given a chronological arrangement, and though they sometimes wear their learning clumsily, as in Report for Northrop Frye or Raby Head, they more often move easily and gracefully. (pp. 111-12)
Charles Molesworth, "Some Locals," in Poetry (© 1972 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), Vol. CXX, No. 2, May, 1972, pp. 107-13.∗
R. G. Everson has been around for a long time, and he's as much a part of the Canadian poetry scene as maple trees in autumn. An inveterate traveller and raconteur, Everson makes poems out of everything. Carnival is his latest collection, and he's at it again, writing about a damselfly, his family tree, Oshawa weeds, a rainbow trout, gulls, and so forth. Many of the poems in Carnival are somewhat prosy, but the rich imagery is always consistent….
On the whole, Everson's book is a bit uneven. It contains too many random observations that resemble unfinished paintings. If Everson had concentrated some of his energy on revision, Carnival would have been an exciting sequence...
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