Reading Through the Stacks: 3. Well Baked Narcissism Layered with Misogyny and Scented with Sea Breezes

Reading through the Oakland Public Library main branch’s poetry collection, book by book.

What is there to say about Man-Fate by William Everson?

Honestly, the less said about it the better. But I read it–I want it to go back to the library. I’m sick of looking at it on my desk waiting to be inspired to discuss it. So we’ll try to make this one brief.

William Everson (1912-1994) was a former monk, a poet, and a printer. He mostly lived in California, which is probably why his book was acquired (and kept) by the Oakland Public Library. That and he was pretty well known, publishing several books of poetry. He’s cataloged under his Dominican monk name, Brother Antoninus, although he’s no longer a monk by the time this book was published in 1973.

Essentially Man-Fate is about one man’s struggle to come to terms with his choices regarding the woman he leaves the monastery for and the implications of his faith. But this guy….thinks a lot of himself and not much of women and it was hard for me to get through.

There is a lot of language about women’s bodies, which mostly turns on how sexual (read: deviant) and for men’s use and enjoyment they are:

“The fate of man/ Turns on the body of a woman”

Everson, p. 23

Women (mostly one woman, his partner) in these poems lose agency. Everson even presumes to speak on behalf of his partner, which just infuriated me to no end. There is a lot of very graphic depictions of sex, which doesn’t normally bother me, but I didn’t like the violence and possessiveness of the language.

Everson is obviously struggling with his decision, trying to reconcile his decision to marry this woman he’s passionately in lust with with his religious beliefs. And I just….don’t care? I don’t think he’s saying anything particularly interesting or new in this book. Most of it reads as pretty narcissistic to me. There’s a lot of self-justification and contemplation without a lot of revelation, introspection, connection, or humility. The rhymes are okay, the metaphors are nothing special. It scans well at least, and that’s the most I can say for it.

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