Monday, June 3, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we remember a beat poet and Dominican brother: William Everson, A.K.A. Brother Antoninus.

It is the 3rd of June 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


There are few things as polarizing as poetry. What I once thought of as a universal pleasure, I have come to find that, outside of rhyming couplets, many are ambivalent at best to the genre that has been telling stories of heroism and love for time immemorial.

And then there are divisions amongst those who appreciate poetry, such that a fan of metaphysical poets like John Donne and George Herbert might not appreciate the iconoclasm of the beat poets—those free verse hippies of mid-century with their transgressions and tawdry topics. But what if I told you that amongst those San Francisco Beats was a man of the cloth? He was William Everson, aka Brother Antoninus, a lay brother with the Dominicans.

Everson was born the grandson of the founder of the Eversonians- a Norwegian Christian sect. He was one of three children to his parents; his mother was a typesetter, and his father was both a printer and a band leader.

He grew up in Selma, California, just south of Fresno on California’s Central Coast. He grew up with connections to Christian Science through his mother but declared himself an agnostic before he graduated high school in 1931.

His first introduction to poetry came through the controversial pantheist Robert Jeffers out of Carmel, California. Attending Fresno State, he declared himself a pantheist like Jeffers. His first publication, 1935’s “These Are the Ravens,” convinced him that he could continue as a poet without formal education. In 1938, he married Edwa Paulson, and they purchased a vineyard to tend, and he would write. However, as World War II commenced, Everson knew that he could not participate and was sent to a camp for objectors in Oregon. Here, he began to use a hand press to publish- something he would do for the rest of his life- and became involved in radical politics.

The time spent away from Edwa, however, was devastating to their marriage, and the two divorced.

After Oregon, he moved to Sebastopol, outside Santa Rosa. He met fellow poet and artist Mary Fabilli. The two would marry and be accepted into the circle of up-and-coming poets in San Francisco.

Fabilli was returning to her Catholic roots at that time, and she took William to church with her. On Christmas Eve in 1948, Everson had a religious experience that brought him into the faith and kept him confirmed in it until his death. He spent 1949 being catechized and baptized. However, the church would not recognize his marriage with Mary as they were both remarried, and that opened the space for the two to separate.  

Everson would spend time working in the slums of the Bay and working with the Catholic Worker (Dorothy Day’s outfit). The 1950s saw him enter the Dominican Order as Brother Antoninus and his poetry suffered (not in quality, but in sheer output). He had published “The Residual Years: Poems 1934-48, the Pre-Catholic Poetry of Brother Antoninus.” But in 1957, the famous “San Francisco Letter” of Kenneth Rexroth identified this new group of poets, “the Beats,” with Brother Antoninus as one of them- the press gravitated towards the unlikely “Beat friar.” He began to take holy orders in 1964, but in 1965, he met a woman, Susanna Rickson. In 1969, he gave a public reading of a poem written about her and on the stage took off his monk's garb and made it known that he was leaving the semi-cloistered life. In the early 70s, he published his collection “Man-Fate: The Swan-Song of Brother Antoninus.” He joined the faculty at Santa Cruz as a poet-in-residence, started his hand press, and taught occasional classes on poetry.

He would be awarded a Guggenheim grant from the National Endowment of the Arts and the PEN center, and was nominated for a Pulitzer. He would work until the early 1980s when Parkinson’s rendered him unable to work or write. He was working on a large biographical poem: “Dust Shall Be the Serpent’s Food” when he died on this, the 3rd of June in 1994.

William Everson, Brother Antoninus- born in 1912, died on this day in 1994 at the age of 81.


 The last word for today is from the daily lectionary, Psalm 99, and the Scottish Metrical Psalter:

1  Th' eternal Lord doth reign as king,

         let all the people quake;

      He sits between the cherubims,

         let th' earth be moved and shake.

   2  The Lord in Zion great and high

         above all people is;

   3  Thy great and dreadful name (for it

         is holy) let them bless.

   4  The king's strength also judgment loves;

         thou settlest equity:

      Just judgment thou dost execute

         in Jacob righteously.

   5  The Lord our God exalt on high,

         and rev'rently do ye

      Before his footstool worship him:

         the Holy One is he.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 3rd of June 2024, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man who styles himself a bit of a poet- the Lutheran Limerick master- there once was a man named Gillespie….

The show is written and read by a man who is fine with the title “Beat Friar,” so long as we all acknowledge the cartoon badger as our favorite friar- I’m Dan van Voorhis. 

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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