William Everson –
Drought Poems on a
Rainy Night in L.A.,
William Everson’s most enduring legacy may turn out to be his advancement of Robinson Jeffersism, the kind of narrative, solid-man poetry with which he carries boulders from the beach up the sheer cliff to place as pieces in his stone tower home. Everson’s verse often has the strength of Jeffers’s, but his ethos is less mythic and more religious. While Jeffers may have inspired or repelled each emerging Beat, Everson was on the front lines of the Beat Movement alongside fire-breathing dragon-poets Hydra Rexroth and Norberta Ginsberg. By the time the Beats burned themselves into Brautigan cinders in a bong, Everson was long gone from the North Shore, and if not far gone at least elsewhere in the Golden State out of earshot of the bongos, in Davis, in Santa Cruz.
Turn a decade or more of pages, to 1980. Everson is a withered 68 and delivers a reading at California State College, Los Angeles. I think it was there, I’m almost certain, I remember our interview in a sterile state college campus classroom and our short, wet walk across a nondescript campus to a small hall, and while my cassette tape is marked 1-28-80, there’s no paperwork remaining to verify my memory of Cal. St. L.A. It does, however, make sense the location was that pastoral campus nestled in the cove where the Long Beach & San Bernardino freeways meet because at the time I had a relationship with the school, as editor of CSLA’s literary magazine. What I remember far better was the strange atmosphere among the small audience. I lent my participation to the event by introducing this complex and erotically-charged poet, this shaman of Kingfisher Flat, this white-hair seer of miraculous verse.
What was strange about the audience? After greeting Everson with warm applause, not one person in attendance clapped again until the end of the reading. Everson would take an enormous pause after a poem, and still we remained stone mute, as if slapping our hands together after one of his twisting, harrowing poems would be a vulgarity, wildly out of place, a desecration of this poetry’s terrible beauty. So, we sat in silence as Everson leafed through another of his volumes, looking for “drought poems.”
William Everson had been living with Parkinson’s for eight years. Now and then during the reading you can hear his shaking hands as he holds onto the podium, and the pop of the microphone as his trembling hand bumps it. Everson appeared in his signature bear claw necklace and famous Lakota buckskin vest.
As for me, I am appalled by my 26-yo self, but compelled never to hide, so, to my embarrassment, there you have it. You were never 26, were you?
Introduction by DJB, and William Everson Reading, Part 1, “Rattlesnake August.” – (11:04 Minutes)
Bill, as he was known growing up on a fruit farm south of Fresno, the son of Christian Scientists, printers by trade, played on the Selma High football team. He would go on to a stint at Fresno State, not as a footballer but as a budding poet & conscientious objector, a decision which would land Bill at Camp Angel during WWII. If you’re not familiar with this quaintly named service camp, it was here, on the coastal edge of Oregon, where the U.S. wartime government put citizens who all possessed three traits, a sensible survival instinct, the brave conscience to stand up against worldwide insanity, and the arts. At Camp Angel, Everson became a dynamo of organization and artistic output, a man of tremendous, all-consuming physical and intellectual energy. At his rainy night reading at Cal State LA, Everson, even with eight years of PD weighing on his broad, towering frame, looked like a man who once held the sheer power to take on John the Baptist in debate. So strong was Everson’s will, he became a pillar of the Frisco Renaissance, with other artists he met at Camp Angel.
William Everson Reading, Part 2, “Cutting the Fire Break” & “Kingfisher Flat.” – (9:52 Minutes)
A devout Jungian, Everson once proposed returning sex to the Psalms with a re-write sure to be an ecstatic document for the Devil and God alike. Lucifer would love how Everson smeared the Song of Songs’ lips with his funky literary lather. Jehovah would love how Everson’s every word was perfect & perfectly placed, as if by the hand of the All Mighty, but in reality only as Everson could do.
William Everson Reading, Part 3, “The Stone Face Falls” & “Spike Horn.” – (10:20 Minutes)