Sunday, July 01, 2012

Bookmarks -- Man-Fate: The Swan Song of Brother Antoninus

Man-Fate: The Swan Song of Brother AntoninusMan-Fate: The Swan Song of Brother Antoninus by William Everson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The story goes that when Brother Antoninus had completed his public reading of the opening suite in this collection, "Tendril In The Mesh," he removed his monk's habit and "fled the platform" in a symbolic gesture in his return to secular life (and the name William Everson). But the decision was not as easy for him as taking off his clothes.

This is difficult book, not because the poems are hard to read, but because the conflicts Everson addresses in here are difficult to watch and read about. And I suspect most readers cannot "relate to" (how I've grown to loath that phrase!) the mental and emotional difficulty of turning one's back on religious vows, especially since he does not turn his back on the religion. But such difficulty should not presume that the subject is not worth writing about. Even when the poet gets into uncomfortable territory (particularly frank discussions of sex), I was thoroughly engaged.

Some of the passages were a bit prosy for my tastes. Yet for every awkward line, there are two remarkably beautiful ones. I found the third section of the book, a suite entitled "A Time To Mourn," quite moving.

In some poems, the speaker addresses his lover. In some, God is implored and praised. In many, the poet weaves narratives and observations concerning his arduous wrestling matches with his soul. The poems do not carry the theological impact of St. John of the Cross or the raw power of John Donne, but they reach into similar hemispheres to reveal what are modern (albeit neglected) dilemmas.

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