|Everson (1912-1994) photo by Robert Turney Courtesy of Black Sparrow Press|
[NOTE: These passages are excerpted from Everson's introduction to Robinson Jeffers' The Alpine Christ and Other Poems, in which Everson alternates between comments on Jeffers and observations on the place where he is writing.]
(http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/a_f/everson/landscape.htm)from The Alpine Christ and Other Poems, by Robinson Jeffers, with Commentary and Notes by William Everson. Cayucos Books, 1974.
|William Everson ca 1992|
Located in a Church of the Brethren camp on the rugged Oregon coast, The Fine Arts Camp at Waldport, founded by poet William Everson, brought together talented individuals from many disciplines. Poets, writers, theater workers, painters, woodworkers, ceramic and silk screen artists, photographers, fine art printers and an architect were among those allowed to transfer to the camp. There they developed a dynamic program in the arts in their free time - after a 60-hour week of hard labor reforesting a devastated area on the coast.
Magazines produced at Waldport:
These interned draftees planted a million and a half trees, and five men lost their lives. After hours, they performed plays by Chekhov, read the works of Edna St. Vincent Millay, and put on a witty version of popular operetta The Mikado. They bought an old printing press, and CO Adrian Wilson learned the craft of letter set printing and typography from William Everson, the son of a printer. (Wilson later became one of the pre-eminent book designers of the 20th century, winning the MacArthur Genius Award for his work.) At Waldport, they produced two magazines, The Illiterati and The Compass, in addition to programs for the plays and elegant books of poetry.
"Our early books were dazzling, and in the reviews in the East, they were as praised for their typography and layout, presswork and design as they were for their contents. In fact, many times more."
- William Everson
In camp they held concerts with a quartet including Brodus Earle, who later became the concertmaster of the Tokyo Symphony. They held regular poetry readings, a practice that had been limited to the New York City's 92nd Street YMCA up to that point.
At Waldport, wives and women friends rented tourist cabins at the beach and performed in the theater productions at the camp. Together in post-war San Francisco they founded the Interplayers Theater.
Poets Kenneth Patchen, Kenneth Rexroth, and writer Henry Miller were pacifists who joined the new arrivals from Waldport, and birthed the "San Francisco Renaissance" in the arts which evolved into the "Beat Movement" of the 1950s.
The legacy of conscientious objection in the arts was not limited to Waldport. Lewis Hill had been in a CPS camp in Coleville, California. After the war he and several other COs founded the Pacifica Network and KPFA Radio in Berkeley, the world's first listener-sponsored radio station. KPFA was home to wide-ranging debates stretching the Cold War limits of free speech, weekly film reviews by Pauline Kael, lectures on Zen Buddhism by Alan Watts and poetry readings by Brother Antoninus, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Alan Ginsberg. The pioneering network brought the world of art and politics to the airwaves as never before. Ever immersed in controversy and threatened with calamity, the station CO Lew Hill envisioned remains the flagship of free speech listener-sponsored, non-commercial radio in the U.S. today.
Asa Watkins was among the first COs to work as an attendant in a mental hospital in Virginia. His work with the mental patients had a profound influence on his artwork. View some of his works in the gallery.
William Everson was born in Sacramento, California in 1912 to Christian Science parents on a farm near Selma in the San Joaquin Valley. During the Depression, he attended Fresno State College, but soon dropped out to devote his life to poetry after discovering the works of Robinson Jeffers. Everson published his first book of verse, We Are the Ravens in 1935. During World War II, he declared himself a conscientious objector and was placed in a series of work camps in the Pacific Northwest, where he first learned the art of handset printing and where he also completed The Residual Years, which brought him national attention. His marriage did not survive the war.
After the war, Everson joined the San Francisco Renaissance movement of poets and anarchists surrounding Kenneth Rexroth. In 1951, following his second failed marriage, he entered the Dominican Order. Donning the traditional Dominican robe and hood, he was a colorful and widely respected figure in the Beat literary movement for nearly two decades. He took the name of Brother Antoninus, under which he became well known. In 1957, after Kenneth Rexroth's "San Francisco Letter" appeared in the Evergreen Review, Everson was regarded as one of the San Francisco Renaissance poets (the Beats) and he was tagged with the name of "The Beat Friar".
In 1969, having fallen in love with his third wife, Susanna Rickson, Everson renounced his Dominican calling. Two years later he took a position at UCSC, where he taught a popular course called "Birth of a Poet" and founded the University's Lime Kiln Press. He also established himself as an important literary theorist with the publication of Archetype West: The Pacific Coast as a Literary Region.
In 1991, Everson was honored as Artist of the Year by the Santa Cruz County Arts Commission. Before an overflowing crowd at the county government center, the buckskin-draped Everson, shaking violently from advanced Parkinson's Disease and sipping occasionally from a bottle of Jack Daniels, read from his body of work. "I love you," he yelled to the adoring crowd at the conclusion of his reading. "Now go home!"
In the long drought
Impotence clutched on the veins of passion
Encircles our bed, a serpent of stone.
. . . . . . .
I think of the Fisher King,
All his domain parched in a sterile fixation of purpose,
Clenched on the core of the burning question
Gone unasked.. . . . . . .
Oh, wife and companion!
The ancient taboo hangs over us,
A long suspension tightens its grip
On the seed of my passion and the flower of your hope.
Masks of drought deceive us. An inexorable forbearance
Falsifies the face of things, and makes inflexible
The flow of this life, the movement of this love.
. . . . . . .
I hear quaking grass
Shiver under the windowsill, and out along the road
The ripe mallow and the wild oat
Rustle in the wind. Deeper than the strict
Interdiction of denial or the serpentine coiling of time,
Woman and earth lie sunk in sleep, unsatisfied.
Each holds that bruise to her heart like a stone
And aches for rain.
Some seed in me,
Some troublous birth,
Like an awkward awakening,
stirs into life.
Terrible and instinctive
It touches my guts.
I fear and resist it,
Crouch down on my norms, a man's
I don't know its nature.
I have no term for it.
I cannot see its shape.
But, there, inscrutable,
Is the long-avoided tatency.
Like the mushrooms in the oak wood,
Where the high-sloped mountain
Benches the sea,
When the faint rains of November
Damp down the duff,
Wakening their spores---
Gross, thick and compelling,
What I fear and desire
Pokes up its head.
The Poet Is Dead
(excerpted from a memorial for Robinson Jeffers)
Snow on the headland,
The strangely beautiful
The strangely beautiful
Setting of death.
The great tongue
Dries in the mouth. I told you.
The voiceless throat
Cools silence. And the sea-granite eyes.
Washed the sibilant waters
That stretched lips kiss peace.
The poet is dead.
Nor will ever again hear the sea lions
Grunt in the kelp at Point Lobos.
Nor look to the south when the grunion
Run the Pacific, and the plunging
Stun themselves in the sea.