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Everson, William 1912– (Formerly Brother Antoninus)

An American poet formerly associated with the San Francisco Renaissance, Everson was a Dominican monk from 1951–69. He began his poetic career as a disciple of Robinson Jeffers; however, many critics feel that Everson's contribution has surpassed that of his master. Everson, whose deepest concerns are with the sexual union of man and woman and the analogous ecstatic communion of man and God, views his entire body of work as a spiritual autobiography. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 5, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)

Kenneth Rexroth

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It's long ago now, another epoch in the life of mankind, before the Second War, that I got a pamphlet of poems from a press in a small California town—These Are the Ravens—and then a handsome book from the Ward Ritchie Press in Los Angeles—San Joaquin. They weren't much like the poems being written in those days, either in New Masses, Partisan Review or The Southern Review. They were native poems, autochthonous in a way the fashionable poems of the day could not manage. Being an autochthon of course is something you don't manage, you are. It was not just the subjects, the daily experience of a young man raising grapes in the Great Valley of California, or the rhythms, which were of the same organic pulse you find in Isaiah, or Blake's prophecies, or Whitman, or Lawrence, or Sandburg at his best, or Wallace Gould, or Robinson Jeffers. This, it seemed to me, was a young fellow out to make himself unknown and forgotten in literary circles. The age has turned round, and the momentary reputations of that day are gone, and William Everson, now Brother Antoninus, is very far from being unknown and forgotten.

I say this, not in a spirit of literary controversy, but to try to bring home to a time that accepts his idiom and his sensibility, how unusual these poems were thirty years ago. Everson has won through, and in a very real sense this whole book [The Residual Years: Poems 1934–1948]—a new edition of his early poems—is a record of that struggle. It is a journal of a singlehanded war for a different definition of poetic integrity. There is nothing abstract or impersonal about these poems. They are not clockwork asthetic objects, wound up to go off and upset the reader. T. S. Eliot and Paul Valéry told the young of the last generation that that's what poems were, and the young dutifully tried their best to make such infernal machines, never noticing that their masters never wrote that way at all. Everson paid no attention. He cultivated and irrigated and tied up the vines and went home in the sunset and ate dinner and made love and wrote about how he felt doing it and about the turning of the year, the intimate rites of passage, and the rites of the season of a man and a woman. He used the first person singular pronoun often, because that, as far as he could see, was the central figure in the cast of the only existential drama he knew. (pp. xv-xvi)

Everson has been accused of self-dramatization. Justly. All of his poetry, that under the name of Brother Antoninus, too, is concerned with the drama of his own self, rising and falling along the sine curve of life, from comedy to tragedy and back again, never quite going under, never quite escaping for good into transcendence. This is a man who sees his shadow projected on the sky, like Whymper after the melodramatic achievement and the tragedy on the Matterhorn. Everything is larger than life with a terrible beauty and pain. Life isn't like that to some people and to them these poems will seem too strong a wine. But of course life is like that. Night alone, storm over the cabin, the sleepless watcher whipsawed by past and future—life is like that, of course…. (p. xvi)

I don't think there is any question but that William Everson is one of the three or four most important poets of the now-notorious San Francisco school. Most of the people wished on the community by the press are in fact from New York and elsewhere. The thing that distinguishes Robert Duncan, Philip Lamantia, William Everson and their associates is that they are all religious poets. Their subjects are the varied guises of the trials of the soul and the achievement of illumination. Everson's poems are mystical poems, records of the struggle towards peace and illumination on the stairs of natural mysticism. Peace comes only in communion with nature or momentarily with a woman, and far off, the light is at the end of a tunnel. So this is an incomplete autobiography—as whose isn't?

How deeply personal these poems are, and how convincingly you touch the living man through them…. As I turn over the pages, some of them thirty years old, I feel again, as always, a comradeship strong as blood. Evil men may have degraded those words, but they are still true and apposite for the real thing. Blood brotherhood. (p. xvii)

Kenneth Rexroth, in his introduction to The Residual Years: Poems 1934–1948 by William Everson (copyright © 1968 by William Everson; copyright © 1948, 1968 by New Directions Publishing Corporation: all rights reserved; reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation), New Directions, 1968, pp. xv-xvii.

Frederic I. Carpenter

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"The Poet Is Dead" is a moving elegy [to Robinson Jeffers] in which the living poet who is with us now, mourned the passing of the poet recently dead. But instead of writing a conventional elegy, Everson remembered Jeffers' own earlier poetry, especially "Post Mortem"; and, borrowing some of Jeffers' imagery and poetic phrases, spoke as it were with the tongue of the dead poet, in order to realize his presence in the world which he had just left. These two poems complement each other—the first looking forward to the time when the poet should have died; the second remembering the dead poet and naturalizing him in our living world. (p. 4)

The strophes of "The Poet Is Dead" alternate between images of nature (the natural environment in which Jeffers lived), and images of human nature (the nature of the dead poet)…. The parallelism and repetition of the imagery subtly emphasize that the poet, both in body and in spirit, was integrally a part of physical nature—his "pen, splintered on the excesses of vision." Then, throughout one extended metaphor, the poet's body seems magically to become one with the wild rock coast which he loved…. The poem succeeds in naturalizing Jeffers, both body and spirit, in the larger world which he had just left.

Further, this process of naturalizing the visionary poet has the effect of assuaging some of his own fears, expressed in "Post Mortem." In this new poem, which might have been entitled "Post Post Mortem," the poet's ghost becomes no longer an "impotent voice on the sea-wind." By means of his naturalization in the world after his death, the poet's body is rescued from the embalming process which has been called "the American way of death," in which the reality of death is disguised with rouge and cosmetics. In Everson's poem the impotent ghost becomes refleshed. (pp. 6-7)

Finally, even the voice of the poet who is dead seems to speak again through the voice of his disciple. Not only the dead body, but the "voice on the sea-wind" returns, and both body and spirit become realized anew. For Everson's poem remembers phrases and recalls images from the earlier poetry of Jeffers: from "Post Mortem," from "The Bed by the Window," from "The Wolf Who Died Snapping," and from "To Death"—a poem in Hungerfield, the last volume published in Jeffers' lifetime. Addressing "Death," Jeffers had written: "I think of you as a great king," and continued: "You have a sister named Life, an opulent treacherous woman / Blonde and a harlot…." Now Everson's poem echoes these words:

         Now the opulent
         Treacherous woman called Life
         Forsakes her claim. Blond and a harlot
         She once drank joy from his narrow loins.
         She broke his virtue in her knees.

But these particular words and phrases, first used by Jeffers and now repeated by Everson, seemed to me to emphasize the life-denying aspect of Jeffers, which had increased as he grew older. And as I read and reread the poem, this single strophe disturbed me. Everson seemed to accept Jeffers' characterization of life as "blonde and a harlot," and even to universalize the metaphor. Flatly stated, he seemed to agree: "Life is a harlot." And so, about five years ago, I formulated my objections, and spoke to the author about them.

Everson readily agreed that the personification of Life as a harlot violated the norms of language and morality. But when I accused him of adopting the phrase, he emphasized that it was a quotation—as of course it was. But it seemed to me that he also had adopted it, and to the degree that he had identified himself with the dead poet, had made it his own. Moreover, his own final line had declared, "She broke his virtue in her knees," and this seemed to reaffirm the justice of Jeffers' metaphor. If "Life" destroys man's virtue by seducing him to sex, then "virtue" is not manhood in its fulness, but a repudiation of Life.

Well, that is the problem. There are several possible answers.

First, and most personally: when Brother Antoninus wrote "The Poet Is Dead," he was a monk in the Dominican order. These lines echoed the religious convictions of the "Brother." In his "Foreword" to the poem, he suggested this interpretation: "my incorporation of direct figures from Jeffers' work" represented "my need to bury, once and for all, those elements of my own past with him." But now, once again, Brother Antoninus has become the secular poet, William Everson.

Second, and more important: "The Poet Is Dead" changes and develops as it progresses toward its conclusion. After remembering Jeffers' early life, and after seeming to identify with his "excesses of vision," the poem not only naturalizes Jeffers, but also naturalizes his poetic vision in the modern world…. As the poem moves toward its conclusion, it moves toward a larger vision.

For "the dark thoughts" to which Jeffers' poetry gave expression have become increasingly the preoccupation of the modern world. The "sheer/Excesses of vision" upon which his "pen/Splintered," projected only too realistically the "bad dreams" of many modern poets and authors. Even the violent hatred of civilization which gave rise to Jeffers' grotesque metaphor of "Life" as "blonde and a harlot" has found realization. (pp. 7-9)

Finally, the two lines of "The Poet Is Dead" which first seemed flawed and distasteful, may actually focus most clearly the crucial problem, both of Jeffers' poetry and of modern civilization. Jeffers conceived of "Life" as "blonde and a harlot." Brother Antoninus developed the metaphor: "She broke his virtue in her knees." But the very language which Antoninus used to describe the life of Jeffers echoes not only the poetic language of Jeffers but the conventional language of orthodox Christianity as well. It suggests that much of the imagery and metaphor of the English language which we all use has been borrowed from the iconography of Christianity. There is the suggestion of sin in "She once drank joy from his narrow loins"—a suggestion which the final line makes explicit.

The apparent flaw in Jeffers' poetry derives from its failure to resolve the fundamental dilemma of our civilization. That most natural of human instincts, sex, inherits not only the guilt-feelings of traditional Christianity, but also the denunciations of futurists who fear "the women's abundance." The greatness of his poetry lies in the completeness of its expression of both conflicting values: the narratives describe sexual emotions so vividly that they sometimes seem pornographic, yet they also describe frustrations and guilt so vividly that they sometimes seem moralistic. If the poetry fails to produce the catharsis of classical tragedy, it is because it realizes this ambivalence so completely that it refuses to ascribe any "tragic flaw" to the protagonists. The flaw lies rather in that "monster," civilization; yet when his modern maenads roam the barren hills of Point Sur they find only madness. Jeffers' poetry speaks to us the more urgently because it prophesies our problems, although it does not solve them. (pp. 9-10)

Frederic I. Carpenter, "'Post Mortem': 'The Poet is Dead'," in Western American Literature (copyright, 1977, by the Western Literature Association), Vol. XII, No. 1, May, 1977, pp. 3-10.∗

[River-root: a syzygy for the Bicentennial of these States] deals with a "syzygy," a coupling, in this case viewed specifically in the act of intercourse. Taking the act as both psychical as well as physical, an act of creation and thus true communion with the divine, Everson exercises delicacy in depicting the physiological concomitants. His juxtaposition of images from nature, such as the river as a seminal force, however, does not altogether succeed. Reminiscent of Whitman, Robinson Jeffers, Allen Ginsberg, his San Francisco colleague, and occasionally Hart Crane, Everson fits into a somewhat old-fashioned tradition in American poetry. He is in full command of the techniques, producing a free-flowing and supple verse, with occasional over-alliteration and exaggerated imagery. A worthwhile example of an erotic poem that succeeds, as few do, as a depiction of sex and as good, sometimes inspired verse.

"Language and Literature: 'River-Root: A Syzygy for the Bicentennial of These States'," in Choice (copyright © 1977 by American Library Association), Vol. 14, No. 7, September, 1977, p. 860.

Albert Gelpi

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[If] T. S. Eliot is the most important religious poet in English in the first half of the twentieth century, Everson // Antoninus is the most important religious poet of the second half of the century.

The extreme contrasts between those two poets point to a symptomatic tension in the religious commitment. The differences are less doctrinal than temperamental: Eliot the conservative classicist submitting the weaknesses of the individual to the reasonable authority of tradition and institutional structures in order to absolve him from the exigencies of personality; and Everson, the romantic individualist, trusting reason less than the undertow of passion and instinct to write out a life-long poem, as Whitman did a century ago, of the struggles with himself to realize himself. (p. 355)

[The] explicitly Christian poets of the twentieth century have, by and large, tended to stress the constraining limits of a radically flawed creation through which the refractions of the Spirit penetrate at best tenuously and elusively, and they have generally insisted on working within the limitations of formal conventions as a way of testing and fixing "hints and guesses," as Eliot described our experience of the Incarnation. The means and the meaning, the norms and the measure have therefore been ruminative, guarded, Apollonian in the main. (p. 356)

It is the very history of religious—especially Christian—poetry in the twentieth century, with its fixation on human fallibility and its consequent insistence on necessarily prescribed forms, that makes Everson's poetry seem radical, original, transformative. Most of the Dionysians in recent poetry—Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, like Hart Crane in the twenties—have used alcohol or drugs for release into vision…. The distinctiveness of Everson's achievement springs, rather, from the Dionysian character of his Christianity. This has evolved in two complementary phases: from the beginning, his surrendering to primal experience until at last it yielded him the Christian mystery; and his surrendering, then, to the Christian mystery so unreservedly that it enflamed and illuminated, below and above structured rational consciousness, that dark area, at once the center and circumference of psyche, where passion and spirit reveal themselves as personhood incarnate. (pp. 356-57)

William Everson's life has been punctuated again and again by interruptions, abrupt changes and seeming reversals…. [In] 1934 he discovered the master whose work made him a poet: Robinson Jeffers. Jeffers represented an "intellectual awakening and the first religious conversion, all in one." "When Jeffers showed me God in the cosmos, it took and I became a pantheist," and "that pantheism was based on a kind of religious sexuality," a sense of the universal life-force compelling all things in the sexual rhythm…. "August" is characteristic of much of the early poetry in its identification with the female earth so deep that masculine intellect relinquishes sovereignty and the poet yields virginal to the God of Nature…. (p. 357)

Everson's pantheism made him a pacifist [during the Second World War]; death and destruction in nature were part of the ecological cycle, but in the human order were violational because egoistic and malevolent. The figure of the bloody warrior from his Nordic ancestry stalks the poetry of the late 30's as the Shadow-inversion of the feminine pacifist-pantheist. But when the holocaust broke, Everson retreated to nature and spent the years 1943–1946 as a forester in an Oregon camp for conscientious objectors. "The Raid" describes war as rape, and "The Hare" acknowledges the Shadow in himself with the awareness, "father of guilt," that we are all killers. Still, fascinated as he was and remained with assertive masculinity (Jeffers was similarly ambivalent), he chose the C.O. camp in the name of his feminine susceptibilities….

In 1946 he came to San Francisco to join the pacifist-anarchist group around Kenneth Rexroth who as writers were opposing the established academic poets and critics in the cause of open form and spontaneity. There he met and married the poet-artist Mary Fabilli. The sequences The Blowing of the Seed and The Springing of the Blade hymn their union and move the nature mysticism of the earlier poetry more explicitly into the area of human sexuality. But she was a lapsed Catholic undergoing a rebirth of faith, and through her ordeal Everson found his own life unexpectedly altered and clarified…. (p. 358)

At Midnight Mass, Christmas 1948, Everson was overwhelmed, psychologically, almost physically, by the divine presence in the tabernacle, and that mystical encounter led directly to his conversion the next year. However, by a grotesque twist of irony, the previous marriages of both partners and the prevailing Church procedures at the time made it impossible for them to remain husband and wife. The Falling of the Grain deals with the wrenching ironies and the overriding commitment which underlay their decision to separate. Two years later he entered the Dominicans as a lay brother and served for almost nineteen years, during which time the poems written as Brother Antoninus made him a figure in the San Francisco Renaissance and the Beat Generation…. (p. 359)

Everson's conversion and Antoninus' monasticism did not so much "break" his pantheism and erotic mysticism, as break them into a new set of circumstances and a new psychological and spiritual dimension. Now his life was centered on the Incarnation. Not an isolated historical event, but a daily miracle: the ongoing infusion of Creator into creation, supremely expressed in Jesus, the God-Man. The individual hangs on that cross, where all the contradictions of the human condition take on new consequence. The natural and the supernatural, soul and body, sexuality and spirituality—the Incarnation means that those seeming polarities, often vehemently at cross purposes, are meshed at the point of tension.

From the human point of view the Incarnation cancelled out Original Sin, so that God could redeem man from the sinfulness which was part of his freedom. Everson had seen the killer in himself; like Eliot, he knew that the fallible will needed to be curbed by ethical restraints and external norms lest creative freedom become oppression or anarchy; and his penitential bent sought the stricter discipline of monasticism. But from God's perspective the Incarnation is the completion of the creative act. On the one hand, God could be seen as driven to descend into flesh to save soul from body: the vision of Lowell and Eliot. But on the other hand God could be seen as having saved man in his human condition: not Spirit charging into flesh but Spirit embodied; not sinful flesh but transfigured body. The implications of this mystery were tremendous and dangerous, and Everson was driven to search them out. For when God became man, did He not submerge himself in the sexual element? In fact, was not sexuality the manifestation of that submersion? Had He not chosen from eternity to move in and through the sexual polarity, so that our sexual natures disclose their divine impulsion? Then in the heart-beat, pulse-throb, sex-urge, the Incarnation unfolds the contingencies of time and space, and subsumes them. Now Antoninus found himself confronting these paradoxes in exactly the situation which would test them most severely: separated from the wife who was the saint of his conversion, bound by his own election to a vow of celibacy.

Consequently the poetry of Brother Antoninus is almost obsessively concerned with the Feminine—that is, not only women, but his own sexuality and the feminine component in his psyche which mediates his passional, instinctual and poetic life. Decades before he had read Jung's psychology his poetry was recording his own often conflicting encounter with the major archetypes: in the psyche of a man, the Shadow, who represents his dark, repressed, even violent aspects; the Anima, the woman within, who is his soul and leads him into engagement with his erotic and spiritual potentialities; and, most dimly, the Self, that achieved and transcendent personhood realized through the resolution of polarities, who reveals himself as the God within and of whom, Jung says, Jesus is the symbol and reality. Everson's poetry through the war had enacted an initial rejection of the Shadow; now the Anima became the primary archetypal focus in the struggle toward transcendence. (pp. 359-60)

Many of the poems in The Crooked Lines of God, written soon after converting and becoming a Dominican, excoriate the flesh, and the poems in the first half of The Hazards of Holiness churn in the frustration not just of lust but of his passionate nature. They recount, Everson has said, his own "dark night." (p. 360)

However, by 1954 the stresses of the monastic life had dried up the inspiration, and it could resume again in 1957 only after a profound, shattering "breakthrough into the unconscious" the previous year, made possible by Antoninus' association with the Dominican Jungian Victor White, and by saturating himself in archetypal psychology. The result was a long narrative poem called River-Root, which is the most sustained orgasmic celebration in English, perhaps in all literature. Amongst the Antoninus poems collected into The Veritable Years, River-Root can be seen as a watershed: the turning away from the often austere asceticism of the years just after conversion back down again to primal nature, now transfigured in the mystery of the Incarnation. The narrative objectivity of the poem permitted Antoninus, while still under the vow of chastity, to render the intercourse between the husband and wife with a candor that, far from detracting from its sacramentality, climaxes in a vision of the Trinity. God's entry into flesh locates the sexual mystery, its source and activity and end, in the very Godhead.

River-Root, then, represented at once a recovery and synthesis and turning point. It opened the way back to poetry—and to the world. In The Hazards of Holiness the ascetic Antoninus struggled with and against the drift that had already begun to carry him, unaware, back to Everson. The last section of that divided volume expresses the full range of his experience of the feminine archetype: from the sexual force leading men to their death in the title poem (whether demonically, like Salome and the Baptist, or heroically, like Judith and Holofernes) to the Virgin mother and spiritual Wisdom of "A Canticle to the Great Mother of God." (pp. 361-62)

The Rose of Solitude tells of an encounter which moved him to his most exalted realization of the Feminine. The highest recognition that I can give the book, the final validation of poetry which refuses to distinguish between art and life, is the fact that it will leave the reader, too, shaken and transformed. The plot is not remarkable: Antoninus falls in love with a Mexican-American woman, breaks his vow of chastity with her, is led by her to repentance and confession; in the end they part. The remarkable quality stems from the character of the Rose herself. The sequence gradually reveals her and extols her as the apotheosis of the Feminine…. The sequence is so densely and intricately woven that it is difficult to excerpt passages, but "The Canticle of the Rose," "The Rose of Solitude" and "The Raging of the Rose" are prodigious feats of rhetoric, the poet pitching language to the extremes of articulation (the prolonged compounding of multisyllabic philosophical concepts in the "Canticle"; the wild incantation and imagery of "Solitude"; the synthesizing of the two modes in "Raging") in order to express the inexpressible fact that, in her, sexual sin becomes felix culpa and the Incarnation is accomplished. (pp. 363-64)

But the relationship ends in separation: the monk returning to his cell, releasing her to her own life and to another relationship. The end of the book is muted—necessarily so, since the Rose has had to be experienced, for all her glory, as forbidden, alien finally to his chosen existence. (p. 364)

Thus, after all the years as Brother Antoninus, he still had not recovered, except in exalted moments, that unquestioned oneness which he had felt with nature in the mid-thirties. (pp. 364-65)

It could be no simple duality. Everson had experienced Christianity "as a Dionysian phenomenon" at the time of his conversion and in subsequent moments of mystical transcendence; and, as he later recalled it, "this same movement took me into the monastery—to exclude everything from the ecstatic Dionysian core" in the life of Brother Antoninus. Dionysus symbolizes the Anima-dominated man, whose creative energy comes from his feminine affinities. (p. 365)

He could be Dionysian Christian, but could be remain a Dionysian monk? In the late sixties he moved toward taking final vows, even while sounding more emphatically the erotic basis of spirituality…. Tendril in the Mesh, Antoninus' last poem as a monk, strives to assimilate and terminate another love-relationship with a woman by subsuming its graphic sexual details in an "Epilogue" which experiences Incarnation not as idealized humanity but as animistic totem…. After the first public reading of this poem in December, 1969, Brother Antoninus stripped off his religious habit and announced to his shocked audience that he was leaving the Dominican Order. Shortly thereafter he married…. (pp. 365-66)

The precipitate departure indicated how much like a thunderclap it came, even to himself; and the poems of Man-Fate (1974) are the words of a man caught in a psychic crossfire: Antoninus become Everson again. During the years as Brother Antoninus, nature had remained a strong religious presence for him. The elegy for Jeffers, The Poet is Dead, works almost completely through images of the California coast, and poems like "The South Coast," "A Canticle to the Waterbirds," and "In All These Acts" project pantheism into Christian mystery. Now Everson withdrew again to nature to validate his break with Antoninus, but with a consciousness heightened and complicated by all that Antoninus had come to realize and value, and by the monastery life that Everson found it excruciating to leave behind. In the opacities of the elemental matrix he would be healed or torn apart.

That venture into the primeval is enacted in a sequence of dreams and archetypal fantasies which comprise the climax of Man-Fate. (p. 366)

The nightmares [in Man-Fate] tell what Antoninus already knew: that one cannot give over to the Shadow; abandonment to the powers of darkness without a guide will end in dissolution, chaos, death. For the man, the Anima can be such a mediator. She is grounded in the Shadow-area so strongly that at times she seems merely his vassal and instrument: the Feminine as temptation or threat. But in coping with the Shadow the man also engages her. And if trusted and loved, she can free him from enslavement to the Shadow, mediating the unconscious and the passions, drawing them from blind automation into activity and actualization in masculine consciousness, and thus opening the way gradually to Selfhood: the apocalypse of the polarized personality into androgynous, undivided identity. The Self is the psychological equivalent of the Beatific Vision, glimpsed in our supreme moments, but mostly striven for through the polar rhythms of living. For in Selfhood the individual attains not just what is uniquely himself, but thereby attains participation in the Godhead in which we shall all find ourselves at last.

Under the onslaught of the Shadow in Man-Fate Everson's response is instinctive and right: he turns to touch his wife. She is the objective verification of the Anima: a somnolent but locating presence, waiting for his return from lonely contention with the Shadow. For after the powerful consolidation of the Anima in The Rose and the subsequent poems, now no longer alien and suspect but tallied in his marriage, she lies ready to wake again from drowsy abeyance to spring him into the next thrust towards Selfhood…. Expressed in the archetypal terms of the human psyche, the Incarnation is God entering into, permeating and operating through the Feminine, just as the Annunciation proclaims. The concluding image above, physical yet suggestive of the sacramental act, constitutes, more immediately and elementally than with the Rose, the personalizing of the regenerative, redemptive mystery in the witness of the wife to the power of the Anima. Mother and wife and priestess in one, she administers him nourishment needed now for the way ahead. (pp. 367-68)

Albert Gelpi, "Everson/Antoninus: Contending with the Shadow" (copyright © 1978 by Albert Gelpi), in his afterword to The Veritable Years 1949–1966 by William Everson, Black Sparrow Press, 1978, pp. 353-68.

James Finn Cotter

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A poet whose religion was of as much interest as his writing, William Everson (then Brother Antoninus) has republished the work of his eighteen years as a Dominican lay brother. [The Veritable Years: 1949–1966] is the second in a trilogy called The Crooked Ways of God. Reading these poems again several decades later, one wonders what the fuss was all about…. Everson falls back on imitations of Jeremiah and Jeffers. Did Everson's reputation depend on the verbally sensational, the mock-biblical, and the autobiographical shock rather than on content and style? It appears so. Tip over the first exclamation point and line after line of poetry collapses like dominoes. Here pseudo-Donne ("Make me! Slake me! Back me! Break me!"), pseudo-Song of Songs (the poet's affair with "Rose"), and pseudo-Aquinas (Being exists, etc.) exploit the Christian tradition, not explore it. Everson explains too much, whether about his sexuality or his spirituality. (p. 117)

James Finn Cotter, "Familiar Poetry," in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1979 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXXII, No. 1, Spring, 1979, pp. 109-22.∗

Roger Taus

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What a beautiful thing that William Everson's River Root comes out in a period of such sexual derangement. For what this epic and magnificent poem does is restore the love making between a man and a woman to its voluptuous and shuddering essence. It is as if Walt Whitman saw from the grave, with somber yet newly startling visage, that all the democratic vistas have long since been shattered like so many burned out tenements in the South Bronx, but still believed…. [Everson] gets to a vision of bonding in this poem that is enrapturing. Quieter, for obvious reasons (a century's difference), than Whitman, his celebration is nonetheless ecstatic, ceremonial and deeply erotic.

In a most intelligent foreword, the poet speaks of this work as "a monolithic anacronism, a core of primitive exultation out of the past." Its presence, however, sings, and calls us together.

Roger Taus, "Books in Brief: A Syzygy for the Bicentennial of These States," in The Minnesota Review (© 1978 The Minnesota Review), n.s. No. 12, Spring, 1979, p. 113.


Everson, William (Vol. 1)


Everson, William (Vol. 5)