Thinking About Bill
By Gary Young
Appeared in William Everson: Remembrances and Tributes, Robinson Jeffers Newsletter Nos. 93 & 94, 1995.
GREENHOUSE REVIEW PRESS
Thinking about William Everson, mediating on his character, and on his influence in my life, I am confronted by an intractable silence. This is not surprising; silence is the birthplace of poetry, and Bill ﬁrst mesmerized me with his deep understanding of its mystery. Renowned for the dramatic recitation of his verse, he would often stand before an audience in silence, and hold that silence until the crowd could endure no more, and he would break, at last, into his poetry. Bill could wring thunder out of silence.
For a quarter of a century William Everson was a compass, and the standard by which I gauged my vocation. We entered the University of California at Santa Cruz together, he as teacher, I as a student, and he woke me to the possibilities of a poet’s life.
Bill made a conscious decision never to meet his poetic mentor, Robinson Jeffers, face to face; I had no such reserve. Bill embodied the highest standards of the arts I aspired to master. As a printer as well as a poet he was the living model of what that dual vocation could mean. Bill recognized a brotherhood of seekers, and like so many others, I received the blessing of his friendship, his advice and his generosity.
Bill and I shared an astrological sign, Virgo, and he would say, “We’re perfectionists—we have to watch that.” He did strive for perfection in his printing, but insisted that perfection was the death of poetry. This is emblematic of the contradictions he so easily reconciled and embraced. His Catholicism did not interfere with his belief in astrology or his native mysticism; a sexual celibate while in the Dominican order, his most spiritual poetry is brazenly carnal. He could simultaneously be father, brother, mentor, lover or peer. He contained multitudes.
I don’t believe it was my imagination, but as he aged, and as his body deteriorated under the assault of his Parkinson’s, he seemed to laugh harder, and more often than ever. He was a great artist, a magniﬁcent spirit; he was also a funny, good natured man.
The last time I saw Bill it was hard for him to speak, and so we sat in silence until he tired and went down for a nap. I thought he was dozing when he squeezed my hand, and muttered something. It sounded like he was saying, “Angels, angels.” I assumed, at ﬁrst, that he was experiencing the delirium that in his last weeks often preceded sleep. Then driving home, I remembered that William Blake—our last great poet-printer—had written: “When the Sun rises do you not see a round disk of ﬁre somewhat like a Guinea?” “O no, no, I see an Innumerable company of the Heavenly Host crying, ‘Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.’”
Bill passed out of this life the same way he passed through it, one hand holding fast to the things the world, one hand reaching always toward the absolute, toward the God he longed for and loved.