Everson, William

Everson, William
(Brother Antoninus)
   William Everson entered the Beat movement through his association with the San Francisco Renaissance. He had come to Berkeley in 1946, a displaced farmer who had lost his grape vineyard along with his first wife, Edwa Poulson, as unintended result of his conscientious objector stand against World War II and subsequent four-year internment in the camp at Waldport, Oregon. Born in Sacramento on September 10, 1912, as middle child of Francelia Heber and Louis Everson, he had lived the first three decades of his life in Selma, south of Fresno. He had begun to write poetry during high school, inspired by a teacher, an inspiration that was later deepened by the powerful works of Robinson Jeffers. His first two books of poetry, These Are the Ravens (1935) and San Joaquin (1939), consisted largely of nature poems reflecting this inland valley life of seasonal plantings, crop harvests, weather patterns, and life of the soil. At Waldport he had gained experience at printing which, along with some typesetting for his father a printer, would become a lifetime involvement. There he joined other poets and artists in publications mostly questioning inner violence and its outcome in war.
   In Berkeley, under the mentoring and editing of poet kenneth rexroth, he published his first comprehensive collection, The Residual Years (1948) at New Directions. Here also, having already moved from his father’s agnosticism to Jeffers’s pantheism, he found himself, beginning in a mystic moment at Christmas mass, converted to the Catholic faith of his second wife Mary Fabilli. Ironically, according to church law, they were forced to separate because of the previous divorces of each, and he thence attached himself to the Oakland Catholic Worker, a pacifist, anarchist, lay organization founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin and dedicated to antiwar activism and feeding, clothing, and sheltering the poor. At this point, by a kind of inevitable spiritual logic, in 1951 he joined the Catholic Dominican Order as the lay Brother Antoninus, dedicating himself to the communal reciting of the Divine Office (consisting largely of the biblical poetry, the psalms) and a daily work schedule. Here, with the help of a Washington hand press he had bought during the war, he established his reputation as a fine press artist printing the highly prized Psalter Pii XII and published three volumes of his conversion poetry—in 1959 The Crooked Lines of God, poems of religious initiation; in 1962 The Hazards of Holiness, poems probing his desolate “dark night of the soul”; and, finally in 1967 the provocative sequence The Rose of Solitude, addressing the necessary role of eroticism and integration of anima for authentic mystic life.
   In 1956 he began his first public readings as a Dominican in which he found great power to spellbind and move. He wrote: “I become for this brief time transcendentally myself. . . . It is this realization of my poems as vehicles for establishing contact between God and other souls that gives me the understanding of their prophetic character.” Also in 1956, he was present in Rexroth’s San Francisco apartment when Life magazine covered Renaissance/Beat poets’ readings, featuring michael mcclure, philip lamantia, and others including Antoninus. And in the second issue of Evergreen Review (1957), Rexroth introduced the “San Francisco Scene,” placing Antoninus significantly within it alongside Robert Duncan and allen ginsberg, calling him “probably the most profoundly moving and durable of the poets of the San Francisco Renaissance,” finding in him a witness against “all the corrupting influences of our predatory civilization.” In 1959 Time magazine did a story on him as the “Beat Friar.”
   A victim of recurring nightmares and deep depression, in 1956 Everson had come upon the writings of Freudian theorists and, under the tutelage of English Dominican father Victor White, a psychoanalyst and theologian, had opened himself to Jungian analysis, which was to direct much of his thinking and writing for years to come, involving especially his relationship with women and his search for his authenticating anima. With this focus came the third woman pivotal in his life, Rose Tannlund, whom he counseled and who introduced him as Beat poet and monk to the teeming San Francisco social life, being herself not his lover but a revelation to many levels of his psyche and about whom he wrote his astoundingly erotic and mystic sequence-poem The Rose of Solitude. As the 1960s passed, he became more and more a counselor to those who came to his Oakland abbey. His readings were multitude and their venues went international.
   As these counselees multiplied, he became involved with one of them, Susanna Rickson, a relationship that morphed into an affair in 1966 and led to his dramatically leaving the Dominican Order in 1969. He married her and shortly thereafter moved to Santa Cruz where he began the third era of his life, teaching handpress printing and lecturing on the vocation of poet at the University of California campus. Here his vesture changed from the dramatic black and crème Dominican habit to a frontier buckskin jacket, broad hat, and bear-claw necklace, and his life role changed from monk to shaman. He published 13 books of his own poetry, including the anthology Blood of the Poet and the epic of his life, The Engendering Flood; eight books of criticism and collected forewords and interviews, one examining regionalism (Archetype West); and edited, published, and, in the case of the majestic and prize-winning Granite and Cypress, printed six books of poetry by his mentor Robinson Jeffers. In 1981 Parkinson’s disease forced him to leave presswork and teaching but not his far-flung readings. He died at Kingfisher Flat, his home, on June 2, 1994.
   As can be seen, Everson lived his life in three discreet stages in three landscapes that comprise what is sometimes described as a classic Hegelian thesis, antithesis, and synthesis: farmer in the San Joaquin valley, Beat monk in the San Francisco Bay Area, and senior teacher and shaman at Santa Cruz where the mountains meet the sea. His powerful prophetic poetry, agonized yet serene and sure, is fittingly gathered in three collected volumes: The Residual Years (1997), The Veritable Years (1998), and the Integral Years (2000). Antoninus/Everson identified with and yet tempered and qualified the Beat movement. After suffering four years of imprisonment for his opposition to war, he briefly belonged to a commune in Marin. He then embraced anarchy and pacifism with the Catholic Worker before he donned monk’s clothing in rejection of his contemporary world’s values. His asceticism was totally countercultural. Especially in his internment, Catholic worker, and monk stages, he embraced the word beat as it is sometimes understood from Jesus’s Beatitudes of Matthew 6:3–10—“Blessed are the poor, those that mourn, the meek, justice seekers, the merciful, the pure of heart, peacemakers, those persecuted pursuing the right.” He composed and broadcast as much challenging poetry as any Beat including Ginsberg. Even in his monk days, he exalted sexuality (coining “Erotic Mysticism” as sexual imagery inciting encounter with God) when correctly channeled and sacramental in intent. He was to his confreres and to all who knew him friend, counselor, teacher, mystic, shaman, and outstanding bard.
■ Bartlett, Lee. William Everson: The Life of Brother Antoninus. New York: New Directions, 1988.
■ Brophy, Robert, ed. William Everson: Remembrances and Tributes. Long Beach: The Robinson Jeffers Newsletter, 1995.
■ Gelpi, Albert, ed. Dark God of Eros: A William Everson Reader. Berkeley, Calif.: Heyday Books, 2003.
   Robert Brophy

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

Look at other dictionaries:

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  • William Everson — (September 10, 1912 – June 3, 1994), also known as Brother Antoninus, was an American poet of the Beat generation and was also an author, literary critic and small press printer.BeginningsEverson was born in Sacramento, California. His Christian… …   Wikipedia

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