Everson William

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Marcella Durand

EVERSON, WILLIAM (BROTHER ANTONINUS) (1912-1994) By virtue of early literary friendships with Robert duncan and Kenneth rexroth, William Everson is often counted among the poets of the san francisco renaissance. He saw his life and work proceed in three phases: the first a quest to understand his place in the physical world, the second a rejection of that world in an effort to achieve union with God, and the third a period of synthesis, or reconciliation of the former two. Moving between the polarities of acceptance and renunciation that characterized his personal life, Everson's poems combine a deep knowledge of psychoanalysis and theology with autobiographical candor to investigate what he called, "The divisible selves, / Ill eased with each other." ("The Chronicle of Division" [1946]). Narrative, confessional, keenly descriptive, and presented with, in David A. Carpenter's words, "incantatory intensity and insistence" (173), his poems travel the rugged physical and emotional trails famously broken by Robinson jeffers, whose expansive evocations of the wave-battered Pacific coast served as models for Everson's own work.

Born in Sacramento and raised in California's San Joaquin Valley, Everson's early life was rural and modest. He began to write poetry in high school, and after graduation he attended Fresno State College, dropping out in 1935 to devote himself to writing, growing grapes, and learning the printer's trade. A conscientious objector, Everson spent World War II in a civilian public-service camp. After the war he moved to Berkeley, where, championed by Rexroth, he gathered increasing recognition for his poetry. In 1948, after experiencing a religious epiphany during a Christmas mass, he converted to Catholicism and three years later was accepted as a lay brother in the Dominican order, receiving the name Brother Antoninus, the name under which he would write until—unable to accept the condition of celibacy—he publicly resigned from the order in late 1969. From 1971 until his retirement in 1981, he was poet in residence at University of California, Santa Cruz. His poems are collected in three volumes: The Residual Years (1997), The Veritable Years (1998), and The Integral Years (2000).

Everson's best-known poem, "Canticle to the Water-birds" (1950), illustrates his acute sensitivity to the intricate music of language—"Clack your beaks you cormorants and kittiwakes"—as well as his ability to infuse earthly things with divine presence: "Send up the strict articulation of your throats, / And say His name." After Everson left monastic life, he continued to explore the physical manifestations of spirituality, including, as critic Albert Gelpi observes, the erotic aspects of mysticism. While some critics found Ever-son's work melodramatic, few poets since the romantic era have so fully engaged the paradoxes and conflicts that at once torment and enliven the human psyche.

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