In his prefatory note to Be Angry at the Sun, Jeffers laments “the obsession with contemporary history” that informs the book, pinning many of the poems to the calendar, like insects to cardboard. Contemplation of the Sword, for instance, is dated April 1938; The Day Is a Poem September 19, 1939; and Battle May 28, 1940.
Poetry is generally “the worse for being timely,” Jeffers admits, “yet it is right that a man’s views be expressed, though the poetry suffer for it.” With the rumblings of World War II in heart and mind, Jeffers says there is “no use postponing the poetry” to a time when the storms have passed, “for I think we have but seen a beginning of them; the calm to look for is the calm at the whirlwind’s heart.”
Literary criticism is also timebound, as those of us engaged in it—as academics or independent scholars—know well. The study of literature requires us to consider the period in which works were written, along with the cultural and personal factors that influenced their creation. At the same time, we know that our own personalities and interests, together with the cultural milieu in which we live, shape our understanding.
Observations such as these are reflected in the theme of our upcoming annual conference, “Seeing Jeffers with 2020 Vision,” for our goal when we meet in Carmel on the weekend of February 21–23 is to assess the value of Jeffers’ achievement for his own time and for ours. With papers covering everything from the “embodied mysticism” of Jeffers to his thoughts on war, from a Gramscian analysis of Jeffers to the connection between his ideas and the emerging concept of the Anthropocene, this conference promises to be one of the best ever. A special feature will be a casual Saturday night dinner at a local restaurant followed by a presentation by Tim Hunt and Rob Kafka on an unpublished but important poem by Jeffers titled Point Alma Venus.
A link to the conference program is provided below, along with a registration form, and a map of Carmel hotels and inns. For those seeking accommodations close to the site of the Saturday seminars, please note that the Carmel Woman’s Club is located across from the Sunset Center, on the corner of 9th Avenue and San Carlos.
We are hoping, of course, for a large turnout for the conference, but members of RJA unable to attend can still lend their support by paying their 2020 dues. For those of you who have not yet done so, please renew your membership today. As always, we need and appreciate your ongoing commitment to our cause.
Eighty years ago, when Jeffers published Be Angry at the Sun, the world was in the grip of an unfolding crisis, which Jeffers addressed in no uncertain terms. The first lines of poems in the book go right to the heart of the matter: “Foreseen for so many years: these evils, this monstrous violence, these massive agonies: no easier to bear”; “Powerful and armed, neutral in the midst of madness, we might have held the whole world’s balance and stood”; “Reason will not decide at last; the sword will decide”; “They are warming up the old horrors; and all that they say is echoes of echoes.”
“That public men publish falsehoods,” Jeffers observes in the title poem of Be Angry at the Sun, “Is nothing new.” That’s true enough, but what should we say now of a president who has made more than 15,000 false or misleading statements in three years of office? “That America must accept / Like the historical republics corruption and empire / Has been known for years”—again, true, but how can we accept leaders who publicly declare their intention to lie under oath and rig a trial? “Be angry at the sun for setting,” Jeffers advises, “If these things anger you.”
Better yet, join us in Carmel in February and talk about them.