William Everson: The Talking Poetry Interview

William Everson was born in 1912 in Sacramento, California, and grew up in the San Joaquin Valley. He attended Fresno State College for a term, where he discovered the work of Robinson Jeffers. During World War II he served as a conscientious objector, then returned to the Bay Area to join the group of poets around Kenneth Rexroth. In 1949 he converted to Catholicism; two years later he entered the Dominican order, taking the name Brother Antoninus. In 1969, after eighteen years as a lay brother, he left the Dominican order to marry. Over the next decade he was poet-in-residence at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Everson has published over forty-five books of poetry, prose, and scholarship, including The Residual Years, The Veritable Years, Masks of Drought, Birth of a Poet, and In Medias Res. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1949, the Shelley Memorial Award in 1978, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1982. He is also a hand-press printer of distinction.

"All art," Everson has written, "seeks to express the silences before and after conceptualization. It is essentially the aesthetic element. When one speaks of art as something seen under the aspect of eternity, it is at that point that cyclical and linear time converge and find their harmony. It is that point in which even the most abstract sculpture becomes the essence of cyclical time, the point of eternal return. The poet uses words to transcend words, to get beyond speech, to register the silence that follows speech."

 Lee Bartlett: Do you consider yourself a religious poet, both specifically Catholic and in a more general sense?

William Everson: Yes. The distinction I’d make would be between a religious poet and a nature poet, though. The religious poet would be more generic, the nature poet more specific. I’d also include I suppose the erotic poet, given the emphasis I have on the sexual.

Bartlett: Which of the three is the strongest?

Everson: The religious poet. At least it’s the most inclusive in that it subsumes the other two.

Bartlett: But by religious you don’t necessarily mean Catholic then?

Everson: No. I was a religious poet long before I was a Catholic.

Bartlett: How did that change when you entered the Dominican Order?

Everson: It gained specificity when I became a Catholic. The order didn’t change it all that much--it was my conversion to Catholicism itself. The entry into the Dominicans was simply a further specification, a deepening of focus.

Bartlett: And from the point of conversion you began to work with Catholic subject matter?

Everson: Yes. I converted to Catholicism in 1949, and the first poem I wrote following that which didn’t have a specific Catholic reference point was my elegy for Jeffers, The Poet is Dead, in 1962. Everything between those years was specifically Catholic.

Bartlett: Why did you make the shift in 1962?

Everson: I didn’t want to subsume Jeffers into the Christian hegemony, given his total witness against it all his life. He was my literary master. It was when I found him, at Fresno State College in the fall of 1934, that I discovered my own vocation as a poet. It was one of the great turning points in my life.

Bartlett: Which explains Fragments of an Older Fury and the rest of your prose work on Jeffers.

Everson: Yes. I didn’t really write any prose to speak of before my conversion, but Catholicism gave me a frame of reference. Before that everything was touch and go, highly relative, and I didn’t have any orientation point save through the emotional dimension of my poetry. It wasn’t until I had the frame of reference which the church gave me, along with its intellectual tradition, that I could begin to work these things out in prose. Also, it was a question of maturation. I converted at age thirty-five, and my mind was just starting to wake up then.

Bartlett: Do you consider yourself a narrative poet?

Everson: More and more, especially now that I’m writing Death Shall Be the Serpent’s Food. It’s an autobiographical epic, and almost totally narrative. Actually, narrative elements began to creep into my poetry around 1942, when after the death of my mother, I began to ingest more content and narrative appeal in my work. But really the narrative broke through pretty completely when I began to read the Bible seriously. Poems like "The Massacre of the Holy Innocents" in The Crooked Lines of God are almost wholly narrative retellings of biblical episodes.

Bartlett: What would the death of your mother have to do with embracing the narrative?

Everson: Nothing specific really. There was just a liberation, a great leap forward from the intellectual. In a sense there was a deliverance point from the bond of the maternal. That is psychologically one of the great crossover points in the evolution of both the aesthetic and the mystical psyches. In studying other poets, like Jeffers, you can often place their emergence into creative autonomy with the death of the mother. Ginsberg is another very good example of that.

Bartlett: Masks of Drought seems thoroughly narrative.

Everson: Yes, by that book I’ve got the narrative at my fingertips. I move towards it instantly when I feel a poem coming.

Bartlett: So you don’t feel the approach to be worked out.

Everson: Well, the only danger is that it might get a little dry, merely narrative at the expense of the lyrical dimension. I think this is the relevance of Masks of Drought in my own evolution as a poet, the constant balancing between those two factors.

Bartlett: What is your plan for the long poem you mentioned?

Everson: Death Shall Be the Serpent’s Food? I begin with the classical epic formula, in media res, the low point in the fortunes of the hero. The plan calls for the use of flashback to explain how he got to that point, as well as his going forward to apotheosis. The first canto begins at the end of World War II in 1945, the death of my father. It should run about ten cantos; I’m writing the second one now. In Media Res, the first canto, has just been published in a limited edition by Adrian Wilson in San Francisco.

Bartlett: So you think of this poem not simply as a long poem, but as an epic?

Everson: Yes. It comes out of my teaching a course called "Birth of a Poet" for a decade at the University of California at Santa Cruz. In that course our text was Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces, which describes in archetypal outline the journey of the hero as it has come down to us in myth. Through the program I arrived at the necessity for the artist of the classical heroic attitude in order to survive the storms of the charismatic journey. Thus in my course I began to narrate the story of my own life as an introduction to the journey. After a decade of doing that I became so accustomed to seeing my life in archetypal terms that I moved naturally towards the writing of epic.

Bartlett: Since you’ve been working on this longer poem have any shorter poems come?

Everson: They’ve kept coming at their own pace. I’ve just this last year published another book called Renegade Christmas, including five poems which are extension of The Masks of Drought. In a sense I had published its poems too soon. A short time earlier I had collected my Catholic poetry into The Veritable Years, and I wanted people to know that I wasn’t stuck there. But I moved too fast. The five later poems came, and I’m writing another one right now. I can’t seem to let go of the theme.

Bartlett: You mentioned teaching. Had you done this in the order?

Everson: Not formally. I was on the reading platform constantly at universities across the country, and I participated in a lot of writing workshops at various conferences. But until Santa Cruz I was not formally connected to a university, which meant that I didn’t have to do the work of evaluation, which turns out to be the difficult part. Everyone loves to teach, but evaluations are a pain in the ass.

Bartlett: When did you take the job at Santa Cruz?

Everson: After I left the order and married Susanna, we were almost two years at Stinson Beach, then in 1971 the job opened at U.C.S.C. I retired in 1982.

Bartlett: Did you teach creative writing workshops?

Everson: No, I avoided them. They are a solution to a pedagogical problem--do you teach creative writing?--but I don’t cotton to them. Americans are sold on them, and the students pour into the universities demanding to be taught. But in the history of the world it’s never been done this way before, and there are a lot of drawbacks. The established poets especially, even the ones who teach in the programs, are starting to take a second look at the whole process. The workshops are getting so good, and the students are all so technically proficient, that it’s hard to distinguish between poems. Sometimes I’m asked to judge poetry contests, and when I see a dozen well-crafted student workshop poems before me I just can’t tell the difference. A natural or sexual image may strike me, and I’ll choose that poem for that reason. But it’s got nothing to do with distinguishing between levels of qualities.

Bartlett: So do you see creative writing workshops and programs as being rather dangerous?

Everson: Not really. It’s not that serious. The direction of poetry will be the direction of genius. The real poets can’t be hurt by these programs, unless they become dazzled by the technique of the teachers and start drifting from one university to another. Study with Lowell for a time, then Roethke, and so on. I think that’s dangerous for a young poet. The traditional way is to find your master and adhere to him until you outgrow him. You have to watch out for distractions. That’s my big problem with Modernism, in fact, that it demeans influence and strives for an impossible and undesirable originality.

Bartlett: So young poets should stay clear of universities?

Everson: I didn’t say that! I think young writers are drawn to universities, as I was myself. It was at Fresno State College where, as I said, I found Jeffers. But the important thing is to find your peer group, after you find your master. Your master gives you direction and your peer group gives you support.

Bartlett: If "Birth of a Poet" wasn’t creative writing what was it?

Everson: A course in charismatic vocation, in the necessity to find your vocation. The structure was a series of meditations. As I said, I took Campbell’s book for my outline. The notion of vocation came to me both from my own experience with Jeffers and from my years in the Order where vocation was the primary factor. There, it is essential that you discover your vocation before taking final vows, and you’ve got seven years to do it. The emphasis is on the inner call which carries you forward to your creative destiny. It is natural for religious life, and I simply made the transition over to the aesthetic life.

Bartlett: How many students did you have?

Everson: It varied from quarter to quarter, year to year. I threw as broad a net as I could. I wasn’t simply interested in writers, but I wanted to establish the general principle of vocation, and thus I drew people from every discipline. In fact, what made the course popular was the assignment of keeping a dream journal, which allowed considerable latitude. This also satisfied the academic requirement for written work. My intuition was to teach the basic concept of vocation during the fall quarter, the American calling in the winter, and the Western calling in the spring. Two years ago Black Sparrow Press published a year’s collection of these meditations taken from the mid-seventies. I sometimes had two or three hundred students, though eventually the college made me limit it to one hundred.

Bartlett: Can we shift the topic a little? You were a C.O. during World War II.

Everson: Yes.

Bartlett: What was your argument?

Everson: It was pretty vague, actually, the way those predominantly and profoundly attitudinal situations are. Both pacifism and revolution seem more attitudinal than intellectual, which is why both are hard to explain. There are many sources, and your articulation is always limited by your lack of experience. You often get off on idealistic ground which you don’t understand until many years later. Thus you often find yourself embarrassed by your most deeply held convictions. Now I realize there was a lot of the Oedipal complex in my early pacifism. I was simply unable to put my neck on the line for the patriarchy.

Bartlett: Was your father displeased with your stance?

Everson: Profoundly.

Bartlett: So it was a rebellion against your father?

Everson: There was a good deal of that, but on the other hand there was a deep conviction. I would never have let mere rebellion be the determining factor. I think even at that time I had too much self-knowledge for that. Actually, when I was finally drafted I was thirty years old, so I wasn’t all that young.

Bartlett: Weren’t there many other writers and artists in the camps during the war?

Everson: Yes. I was at a camp at Waldport, Oregon, and we got a number of other writers, artists, and musicians to join us there as part of the Fine Arts Program.

Bartlett: The painter Morris Graves?

Everson: No. He once visited Waldport, but though he was a pacifist he never went into the C.O. system. He went into the military, refused to put on the uniform, and they threw him in the brig. After a year or two they managed to get rid of him as a mental case. Of course, William Stafford was in a camp.

Bartlett: Did you know him?

Everson: Not at the time. He was down in Santa Barbara. I’ve never asked him why he didn’t come up to our Waldport program, but I intend to do it before I die. His beautiful little C.O. journal written during that period has just been reissued. The printer Adrian Wilson was at Waldport; he came as a musician, but he found his printing vocation there. Today he is one of the finest printers in the country.

Bartlett: Are you still a pacifist?

Everson: I consider myself one, though I can’t honestly say that I retained my pacifist beliefs throughout my Dominican period. My abandoning of those convictions through the years was a mistake.

Bartlett: Did the Church require it?

Everson: No. Somehow it had to do with my identification with the institutional. In political terms it made sense, but it was an error. Reading Guerard’s book, Violence and the Sacred, illuminated for me the whole point of Christ’s "resist not evil," though it’s been awhile and I don’t think I can be more specific about it. Just that he gave me an insight into the contagious nature of violence. The only thing that can contain it is human specification in terms of law, application of rule. Otherwise, vengeance becomes law, and on the primitive level this is a reflexive disaster. You’d think that would be an argument for the just war, but as I say I am unable to take this any further right now.

Bartlett: What about the role of violence in your work, or Jeffers’s?

Everson: That’s the central problem in life. Look at Shakespeare, Milton, Dante, Homer especially--the work is saturated with violence. It’s the obsessional part of human life that is unsolvable save through the religious dimension. I was preoccupied with Old Testament violence, the relation of violence to the sacred. I tried to get through to the heart of it by seeing some of the most violent biblical episodes from a Jungian perspective, the theory of archetypes and mythical structure.

Bartlett: Have you read a lot of Jung?

Everson: I don’t know anyone who has read all he wrote, but I’ve pondered on his thought deeply for some years.

Bartlett: How did you come to have an interest in his work?

Everson: Through Victor White, the English Dominican priest who was a Jungian. He came to teach for a year at St. Albert’s College in Oakland where I was stationed as a lay brother. My friendship with White led me to the whole matter of the unconscious. My emergence into Jung was a way of answering certain problems I was having at the time.

Bartlett: There was no conflict between the Catholic and Jungian systems?

Everson: Not at all, save for the few technical points like the nature of evil. But that has nothing to do with the therapeutic aspect. In fact, Fr. White did a wonderful job of equating St. Thomas Aquinas, the great Dominican saint and master theologian of the Church, with Jung. I wrote a preface for the recent reissue of his book God and the Unconscious, published by the Jungians.

Bartlett: What about Robert Bly, who also speaks of Jung often? Do you have any points of disagreement on Jung?

Everson: Not really. We always seem to be fighting, but I’m not sure about what. We have this sense of comradeship based on the fact that we are both Christians, both Norwegians, both poets, both Jungians. That’s a pretty strong bond, considering how rare Christianity and Jungianism is in American poetry. But when it comes to poetry itself, he thinks that I’m too rhetorical, while I think he’s too surreal. We are like two bulls in a pasture, just butting our heads together and not giving each other his due. He is the best reader on the platform today.

Bartlett: So you’ve heard him recently?

Everson: Yes, not too long ago in Santa Cruz. In fact, the reading has become something of a local legend. I arrived after the hall was fairly full, and Robert and I embraced in front of everyone, an open declaration of brotherhood and amity. I sat down and soon after he began to read. It was a beautiful performance at first, but he had just read Elaine Pagels’ book on the Gnostics and soon he was into a thing about them. He is so political that soon he was breathing fire about the suppression of the Gnostics; he began to get warmed up to the subject, and I began to feel uneasy. I was waiting for the intermission so that I could slip out. But finally he declared, "Christianity must renounce the doctrine of the one God!" I just found something grabbing me by the seat of my pants and heading up for the door. He made a great mistake then. He stopped his discourse to call to me, "Are you leaving, Bill?" I had to say something, so I barely paused in my exit and flung over my shoulder: "You’d better believe it!" and kept going. The audience broke up.

I heard many reports that at the time he took the whole thing very well. But after a few days he began to steam. I wrote him a letter the next day and sent it along with a book; I told him I’d looked forward to his appearance and that I regretted what happened. Before he got that, though, he wrote me a savage letter saying that if I differed with him I should have stayed to fight. Further, he said that I stood for the Inquisition, that a few hundred years back I would have reported him to the priests and watched him burn at the stake on the plaza in Santa Cruz. So I immediately wrote back and told him that it wasn’t my place to dispute with him at his reading, and closed by telling him that he’d left me only two options, to leave or to punch him out. And I finished by saying that maybe I made the wrong choice!

Bartlett: Have you corresponded since?

Everson: Naomi Clark, who runs the Poetry Center in San Jose, got us back together. She and her husband brought Bly and his wife to our house and we had a fine evening together. I have great respect for him.

Bartlett: Any other literary feuds in your seventy years?

Everson: Well, there was my confrontation with James Dickey back in the early sixties. He reviewed The Crooked Lines of God for the Sewanee Review, putting it down very forcefully. It came at a time when I felt that I had to reply, as the Beat Generation was running out of steam. He put-down was actually as much against the Beat Generation as it was against me personally. I can’t remember exactly what kind of letter I wrote to the journal, but I left myself open somehow and he swooped in with his reply. I was put in a position where I had to wind up my long right arm and let him have it from the ecclesiastical heights in a second letter. I shouldn’t have done it--I stormed with the wrath of God. There was nothing much he could say, but I was really out of order to hit him from the sacred sector.

Later I began to feel guilty, as I did after an earlier controversy with Poetry, which was one of the stumbling blocks of my career. I felt remorse, and began to beat my breast. I wrote him a letter and quoted Hardy’s poem, saying that like the two soldiers if we had been able to sit down over a beer we’d have had a nice toast together, but as it was we shot at each other. He was in Italy at the time, and eventually he wrote a jubilant letter in reply, which I greatly appreciated. I let matters rest there because I knew there were deep aesthetic divisions between us, as well as cultural and attitudinal differences, but I should have replied. He took my silence amiss, feeling that I had been insincere in my gesture. I just didn’t know how to handle the deeper issues, and that was that.

Bartlett: What was the problem with Poetry?

Everson: The scene in the late thirties was heavily dominated by the Proletarian movement, which might readily translate into the Communist Party. The party was riding very high then. The struggle against fascism was just starting, and the communists seemed to have the only answer to it. They had the bulwark of the Soviets, tremendous prestige, the intellectual elite, and so forth. Many of the great liberal minds who were later disillusioned in those early years were very hopeful.

Communism wasn’t a problem for me, but proletarianism was. I wasn’t writing proletarian poetry; I was writing nature poetry, as well as trying to find my way into the religious dimension. Before she died, Harriet Monroe accepted a couple of my poems, but it took years before they were published because of the backlog. When they finally appeared, Morton Zabel was editor; then he left. I started sending in my work, but the poems just kept coming back, as by this time Poetry was publishing a lot of proletarian verse. Subject matter seemed to dominate the selection. To prove my hunch was right, I concocted a hoax. I wrote a proletarian-sounding poem, then wrote a cover letter saying I was a fruit worker between Imperial Valley and Yuba City, that I’d drift into cities and see Poetry in libraries. I used my mother’s maiden name, and scrawled the thing out on a piece of binder paper with a stub pencil. They accepted it! This didn’t really prove anything, but it implied so much. I sent another in, and they accepted that also. But as I said, I felt remorse and sent a letter of apology. Needless to say, I never got into the magazine again.

Bartlett: Do you submit unsolicited work to other journals?

Everson: Almost never anymore. I should do it, and in fact if I’d done it from the start I’d be further ahead in terms of career. Not vocation, as that has handled itself. I’ve been far more attuned to vocation than to career, though because career is my weakness I’ve spent a lot more psychic energy, and ego energy, there than on vocation. It has been so up and down, so erratic, that it’s driven me frantic. My introverted relationship to God and women has been harmonious, fruitful, and developed, and I should be content. But I’ve got this inferior-complex relationship to the world which is very painful; far too much time worrying about my rank in the poetic pantheon.

Bartlett: Why didn’t you send out work early on?

Everson: I started that way just like everyone else. I just found out that for me the rejection slips kept interfering with the creative process, so I stopped. It took up far too much time, far too much psychic energy. In fact, when I had a hundred copies of my second book, San Joaquin, I simply gave copies to friends rather than sending any out for review. Poetry was the only exception. But my advice to younger poets is if you can do it, do it.

Bartlett: Do you read much work by younger poets?

Everson: No, not at all. I think it’s typical of poets in old age that they only read their contemporaries and show little interest in what’s coming from behind. I feel better about my insularity having seen people like Eliot go through the same thing, expressing a profound obliviousness to younger writers’ work. It seems pretty natural.

Bartlett: Are there any contemporaries who you think are doing interesting work?

Everson: Robert Duncan comes immediately to mind. Also, I was happy that Carolyn Kizer received the Pulitzer Prize, as she’s the second West Coast poet to receive one. We’re starting to gain on them! Some of the people in the Bay Area didn’t take that as well as they should have. Thomas Parkinson called me up for my signature on a letter trying to get an award for Robert. I’m just glad that a West Coast poet got it.

Bartlett: Though she seems very much part of the East Coast group. She’s always at conferences, in American Poetry Review, and so on.

Everson: Well, yes. And for years she was a wheel in the NEA. Probably Duncan should have won. You know, after the Ekbert Faas biography of Duncan appeared, a lot of questions I’d had about him were answered. I think that the study ensures him a much stronger place in our literature. Somehow, when you get a man’s life in front of you it makes a profound difference. My own orientation has always been substantially biographical in terms of poetry. I know that’s against New Critical precepts. When New Directions published their Poet of the Month series and wanted to include photographs, Randall Jarrell balked at it, which was the Modernist position. It was a reaction against the excessive biographical interest of the Victorians, who let their judgment of the work be swayed by their view of the life. But I know that my life stands behind my work in an archetypal way I can’t renounce, and so does Robert’s.

Bartlett: Is it important for younger poets to read a lot of poetry?

Everson: Can you keep them from it? They read everything that comes out, always trying to relate themselves to it. After a while they get to know, however, and seem to lose that point of curiosity. The attention shifts to your rank with your peers, and this you never get over. Read the biography of Stevens or Williams and watch how they jockey for position right up to the end of their lives.

Bartlett: Why?

Everson: I take it to be another archetypal factor, not a blemish. It’s part of the creative process, writing to the sense of your time and the sense of the leading voices. The future is blank. The past, however, comes up to a burning point of consciousness, which is you, and you keep looking around to find your level. It’s a lit bit like a swimming race--you are swimming against both your time and your competition. You see this in the ovum and the sperm. Each sperm jockeys for position to score with big mama, and it’s archetypal in that sense. We are all sperm of God swimming toward the great ovum of the future.

This is important because the way the artist goes determines the direction of consciousness. The artist isn’t just in there beating his or her gums, but rather struggling for the potentiality of the whole race as a measure of the future. The artist can’t afford to rest just because of the creation of a well-rounded work; the drive must keep on to the last inch of being.

Bartlett: So when you write, is it for a particular audience or yourself?

Everson: I write for the past. For Shakespeare and Milton, Homer and Dante. For Jeffers. The voices that shape you are the voices you listen to and work for. I don’t write for Stevens or Williams. I don’t write for Zukofsky or Olson. I write for Duncan, but I don’t get his whole attention because he’s beating out a different course.

Of all my peers, Robert is probably the closest to me. I don’t have the points of contact with him that I’ve got with Bly--he’s neither a Christian nor a Jungian. We are poets, though, and I feel close to him on that level in a way I can’t feel close to Bly. I honor Bly, but there is no ring of identity. This is odd in that there are even antipathetical points in our relationship. Duncan is homosexual, and I get no insight from this. Also, there is a rivalry between us which sometimes surfaces. For instance, when my manuscript collection went to the Bancroft Library at U.C. Berkeley, there was a large public celebration and reading at Wheeler Hall on campus. Robert went and he was so jealous it was painful. He sat in the audience with a young gay poet on either side, and at the end of my reading when the audience rose to its feet, Robert didn’t budge. He kept the two of them nailed down, too. Afterwards he could hardly speak to me, he was so pissed off. He has given a lot more to Berkeley than I ever have, and he was understandably angry that I should be honored that way, before him.

Bartlett: Duncan is published by New Directions, you were, Snyder is, and you are all more or less from the same area. How did that come about?

Everson: Through Kenneth Rexroth. He fostered the San Francisco movement which was an entering wedge. He had a strong connection with James Laughlin before we ever met him. My book was published by New Directions in the forties, and I can honestly say Rexroth discovered me. He sold Laughlin on me, and I owe him a great debt for that. Jeffers was my ideal; Rexroth was my mentor, my manager. Eventually, because of a personal problem we had a falling out which never did get straightened out properly. It has been painful for me. I was committed to his program, but I couldn’t fulfill what he expected of me. I should have taken more care, but it was impossible.

Rexroth saw me as an autochthon, a nativist in the American tradition of Sandburg, Jeffers, Henry Miller. When William Stafford wrote his introduction to The Achievement of Brother Antoninus, a kind of brief anthology of my poetry, he tried to place me more in line with the prevailing, antinativist aesthetic, and that made Rexroth very angry. It denied everything he had written about me. When I honored Stafford’s introduction, he was upset. But it was more complex than that. His biographer told me that she felt that when Rexroth talked about me he talked about the best he hoped for himself. That’s high praise, and in that sense I truly was his son. But like all sons and fathers our relationship was tangled.

Bartlett: Would you say that he was pretty much single-handedly responsible for the San Francisco Renaissance?

Everson: Sure. Duncan of course labored hard at it, but he was too young. He just didn’t have Rexroth’s stature. He was not a polemicist, which was one of Rexroth’s greatest strengths. Ginsberg also, whereas both Kerouac and Duncan were the writers. Rexroth got the thing started in San Francisco, then Ginsberg took it back east and sold it to Time. Kerouac and his group wrote for ten years before the Beat Generation emerged, and it was Rexroth who made the difference.

Bartlett: Over the years have your work habits changed?

Everson: I don’t think so.

Bartlett: Do you write on a typewriter?

Everson: With a pen for two or three drafts. I generally go to the typewriter when I want to see what the configuration of the poem is going to be. But first I have to get the rhythm worked out. I don’t see any reason to write poetry on the typewriter; in fact, the whole idea seems ludicrous to me.

Bartlett: And where do you write?

Everson: Right in the family. I’ve got a studio, but I use it for printing or typing. I find that the hatching process is right there in the morning in front of the fireplace.

Bartlett: What about notebooks?

Everson: I keep a dream journal. I’ve been keeping it for a long time, and fairly regularly.

Bartlett: And do you use it in your poetry?

Everson: Often. In fact, I think I used it pretty extensively in the Masks of Drought poems. Often I’ll go into the dream atmosphere in order to get the poem under way.

Bartlett: You mentioned printing. What is the relationship between your printing and your poetry?

Everson: It’s part of the struggle for consummation. Going back to the analogy of the sperm and the ovum, it’s another dimension that the poem goes through in order to achieve apotheosis.

Bartlett: Which means . . .

Everson: I’m not satisfied with a poem until I see it perfectly printed. I’m not satisfied until the idea is perfectly articulated, perfectly expressed, and perfectly printed. That’s as near to beatitude as I can carry it. When I first got into printing during the war my idea was to write my books, print them, and make a life as a poet-craftsman. I hoped to leave behind me a work of coherence. But when I converted I moved into a different frame of reference and began to worry about my egocentricity. I began to take on printing projects outside my own work, and these turned out to be my "masterpieces." The only thing I do regret is that I couldn’t do my own collected poems. I planned the project a few years ago, made a start, but the thing fell through. It was a great disappointment to me.

If I had my life to live over again, I’d develop my artistic capacity more fully in terms of my woodcuts. Then with the hand-press, I’d try for coherence, book by book, section by section. I would establish the folio format from the start, so at the end it could all be bound together. But after all, I didn’t even know what I was going to write, let alone the rest of it. Still maybe it gives some idea of my priorities, even if I couldn’t accomplish it.

 Reprinted from Lee Bartlett’s Talking Poetry: Conversations in the Workshop with Contemporary Poets. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1987.

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