Monday, April 14, 2014

William Everson

William Everson (1912—1994) is a beat poet of the San Francisco Renaissance. When he discovered the poetry of Robinson Jeffers, he dropped out of university and decided to become a poet himself. During WWII he was a conscientious objector, working in lumber camps in Oregon. In 1947 Kenneth Rexroth wrote a bold endorsement of Everson's work that helped launch him as a national poet.

After having recently read Augustine's Confessions, at midnight mass on Christmas Eve 1948 he had a mystical experience, which led to his conversion. He took on the name Brother Antoninus, having become a lay brother with the Dominican order. The three books he wrote during this time are often considered his finest work: The Crooked Lines of God (1959), The Hazards of Holiness (1962) and The Rose of Solitude (1967). The media grew intrigued at the thought of a monk being associated with the Beat movement, and so Everson was in demand for public readings. Dana Gioia says that "Fame proved Everson's undoing." He left the order in 1969 to marry a woman he'd been counselling.

He was poet-in-residence at University of California, Santa Cruz during the '70s and '80s.

The Making of the Cross

Rough fir, hauled from the hills. And the tree it had been,
Lithe-limbed, wherein the wren had nested.
Whereon the red hawk and the grey
Rested from flight, and the raw-head vulture
Shouldered to his feed—that tree went over
Bladed down with double-bitted axe; was snaked with winches;
The wedge split it; hewn with adze
It lay to season toward its use.

So too with the nails: milleniums under the earth,
Pure ore; chunked out with picks; the nail-shape
Struck in the pelt-lunged forge; tonged to a cask,
And the wait against that work.

Even the thorn-bush flourished from afar,
As do the flourishing generations of its kind,
Filling the shallow soil no one wants.
Wind-sown, it cuts the cattle and the wild horse;
It tears the cloth of man, and hurts his hand.

Just as in life the good things of the earth
Are patiently assembled: some from here, some from there;
Wine from the hill and wheat from the valley;
Rain that comes blue-bellied out of the sopping sea;
Snow that keeps its drift on the gooseberry ridge,
Will melt with May, go down, take the egg of the salmon,
Serve the traffic of otters and fishes,
Be ditched to orchards…

So too are gathered up the possibles of evil.

And when the Cross was joined, quartered,
As is the earth; spoked, as is the Universal Wheel—
Those radials that led all unregenerate act
Inward to innocence—it met the thorn-wove Crown;
It found the Scourges and the Dice;
The Nail was given and the reed-lifted Sponge;
The Curse caught forward out of the heart corrupt;
The excoriate Foul, stoned with the thunder and the hail—
All these made up that miscellaneous wrath
And were assumed.

The evil, the wastage and the woe,
As if the earth's old cyst, back down the slough
To Adam's sin-burnt calcinated bones
Rushed out of time and clotted on the Cross.

Off there the cougar
Coughed in passion when the sun went out; the rattler
Filmed his glinty eye, and found his hole.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His new poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.