RJA-THF Webinar Videos

 

The webinar series co-sponsored by the Robinson Jeffers Association and Tor House Foundation explores the nature, impact, and cultural contexts of the work of Robinson Jeffers.  For recordings of the four webinars to date, please use the links below.  The fifth webinar, focused on recent research by Katharine Bubel, Brett Colasacco, and Geneva Gano, will be held July 29, 2021.

Looking at Jeffers: Portraits – Weston, Hagemeyer, and Contemporary Bronzes hosted by Amy Essick and featuring Carol Matranga Courtney, Will Pettee, and Matt Weston (April 30, 2021)

Robinson Jeffers’ “Shine, Perishing Republic,” “Shine, Republic,” and “Shine, Empire: A Panel Discussion featuring Shelley Alden Brooks, Whitney Hoth, and Robert Zaller (January 28, 2021)

Setting Robinson Jeffers to Music: A Conversation with Christopher Anderson Bazzoli and Jessica Hunt Hosted by Melinda Coffey Armstead (October 25, 2020)

Robinson Jeffers’ “The Purse-Seine”: A Panel Discussion featuring James Karman, Elliot Ruchowitz-Roberts, and Susan Shillinglaw (July 29, 2020)

 

Message from the President ~ May 2021

May 2021
 
 “The Maid’s Thought,” the first poem in the first volume of The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, is a paean to springtime and to the fructifying power of Love. “Why listen,” the speaker of the poem implores, “even the water is sobbing for something.” With hillsides aglow with wildflowers and pollen dusting the ground, signs of desire are everywhere: “Shells pair on the rock, birds mate, the moths fly double” and woodland deer are “Scalded by some hot longing.” “O it is time for us now,” the speaker exclaims, “Mouth kindling mouth to entangle our maiden bodies / To make that burning flower.”
           
The second poem in the first volume, “Divinely Superfluous Beauty,” continues the theme, but here Love gives way to Beauty—“The incredible beauty of joy” that “stars with fire the joining of lips,” and “Rules the games, presides over destinies, makes trees grow / And hills tower, waves fall.” “O let our loves too / Be joined,” the speaker ardently prays—thoroughly intoxicated by the “storm-dances of gulls,” the barking of seals, and the beauty of life all around—“there is not a maiden / Burns and thirsts for love / More than my blood for you.”
           
What is remarkable about the placement of these two poems at the very beginning of Jeffers’ Collected Poetry is that they do, in fact, mark a spring-like transformation. Not too long before they were written, Jeffers was mired in doubt and depression, as he admits in a posthumously published poem titled “The Cloud,” where he speaks of a “gulf-dark . . . weary cloud” hanging over him—“shutting me from heaven / And love and my own soul.” Following the two poems, in order of publication, comes the brilliant flash of Tamar and the towering achievements of Jeffers’ mature career.
 
Coursing through both lyrics, like rapid water in a stream, is a rush of maternal energy—not of the sort one finds in a Mother Earth goddess like Gaia, Demeter, or Ceres, and not like that of a Queen of Heaven such as the Virgin Mary, but something closer to the life force itself, with all its creative and destructive power. Jeffers tapped this archetypal feminine energy in poem after poem, revealing its various forms in such figures as Tamar, California in Roan Stallion, Clare Walker in The Loving Shepherdess, Fera Martial in Cawdor, and many others, including Medea, the Kali-like mother who takes what she gives (life) with the same fierce passion. In The Cretan Woman, one of Jeffers’ last major works, Jeffers writes of Aphrodite/Venus—the deity, one could argue, he had in mind all along.
 
Support for this contention can be found in the title of a poem Jeffers was working on at the dawn of his career, Point Alma Venus. The title comes from De Rerum Natura, the first-century BCE poem by Lucretius, where Alma (“nurturing” or “nourishing”) Venus is invoked not just as the mother of Aeneus (and thus of Rome), but the mother of everything—“for only through you,” Lucretius says, addressing her, “are living things conceived.” “All creatures follow your bidding,” he adds, “Look to the teeming seas, the mountains, / the fast-flowing streams, the treetops, or rolling gorse where birds / flutter and dance the reel of lust as earth once more / renews itself as you have ordained, for you alone / govern the nature of things, and nothing comes forth to the light / except by you, and nothing joyful or lovely is made.” And nothing tormented or twisted is made without Venus, either, given the heartache she can bring—as Jeffers repeatedly shows.
 
Various working drafts of Point Alma Venus have been hidden away for a hundred years, but now they will finally see the light of day. Through the efforts of Tim Hunt and Rob Kafka, The Point Alma Venus Manuscripts will be published by Stanford University Press this summer. For this major achievement, Tim and Rob deserve our congratulations and gratitude. If, as seems likely, the Tor House Foundation and the Robinson Jeffers Association hold a joint festival/conference in Carmel this coming October, we will have an opportunity to celebrate the publication of this important book together: https://www.sup.org/books/title/?id=18102.
 
Another publication scheduled for this summer is the next issue of Jeffers Studies. Co-editors Jim Baird and Whitney Hoth also deserve our congratulations and gratitude for their determination to close the gap between the publication date of the journal and the release date. Once that goal is achieved, we hope to publish Jeffers Studies annually in September. Jim and Whitney welcome submissions, so if you have any work you would like to share, please contact them at jseditor@robinsonjeffersassociation.org.
 
Una, fatherhood, World War I, building Tor House, and life on the California coast all contributed to Jeffers’ transformation from a talented but pedestrian poet in his early years to the singular artist he was destined to become. Another factor, according to William Everson, was the death of Jeffers’ mother Annie in April 1921. In an essay titled “Robinson Jeffers’ Ordeal of Emergence” (in Centennial Essays for Robinson Jeffers, edited by Robert Zaller), Everson claims that Annie’s death liberated “the creative energy fixated in the soul of her son” and released “a new dynamism” that characterized his work from then on. No one knows if this is so, for the relationship between mother and child, rooted in the mystery of being and the fathomless depths of consciousness, is ultimately beyond the reach of comprehension. The fact remains, however, that Jeffers did experience a life-changing surge of creativity around the time his mother died—one hundred years ago last month.
 
With May Day, the apex of springtime, just behind us, and with Mother’s Day coming up, in this the centennial year of Annie’s death, it is fitting to remember Annie and to acknowledge the formative role she played in Jeffers’ life. Some features of that role are revealed in “The Mother’s Cairn,” an elegy composed as Annie lay dying (Jeffers was at her bedside) or written immediately after her death. Describing his mother as “the white flower I am the fruit of” and “the beautiful home I came from,” Jeffers mourns the “loveliness gone down in the earth” and the “marble lamp broken.” The poem is infused with affection and regret, tenderness and loss. In some places, Jeffers speaks from the perspective of a child, as when he says, with sorrow, “you will not lean to me in the night,” or when he recalls walking in the Swiss Alps with his mother, “hand in hand.” Love and Beauty were present in such moments, in forms Jeffers never forgot.
 
The presiding deity of the poem is a nameless Mother Earth figure, described by Jeffers as “the dark giver, the goddess whom the plow loves” and, more vividly, as “She that runs naked in the rayless midnights, terribly tall, dreadful and holy and dear.” This Titanic goddess—with her “great flanks” and “bare / Grave breasts,” “brooding eyes and sheltering hair”—is the implacable source and end of all. After her manifestation in “The Mother’s Cairn” (a poem Jeffers chose not to publish), she is rarely seen directly again, but this is the One who breathed new life into Jeffers’ imagination and inspired him throughout his career. She is the lion in the darkness “just beyond the firelight” in Jeffers’ poems. Watch out for her.
 
James Karman
Emeritus Professor
Department of English
Department of Comparative Religion and Humanities
California State University, Chico
 

News from Jeffers Country

A very warm welcome to new RJA members: WAYNE BINGHAM and LINDA LA GRANGE (Las Vegas, NM), THOMAS DOERK (La Veta, CO), EDWARD DUENSING (Gulfport, FL), MICHAEL MAGLIARI (Chico, CA), RICHARD ROBERTS (Novato, CA), and ALLENE THOMPSON (Carmel, CA).
 
The April 30 webinar, “Looking at Jeffers: Portraits,” co-sponsored by RJA and the Tor House Foundation, was an impressive success thanks to organizer and host AMY ESSICK, guests KIM WESTON, MATT WESTON, WILL PETTEE, and CAROL MATRANGA COURTNEY, and RJA’s social media coordinator JESSICA HUNT, who produced the program. A video recording of the webinar will be posted on the RJA website soon.
 
GEORGE ST. CLAIR shared an article by Katie Dowd in SF Gate (an online publication of the San Francisco Chronicle): “For centuries, Big Sur residents have seen ‘Dark Watchers’ in the mountains.” Jeffers and John Steinbeck are included among those who have written or spoken about the mysterious creatures said to inhabit the Big Sur. See https://www.sfgate.com/local/editorspicks/article/dark-watchers-santa-lucia-range-stories-steinbeck-16012812.php.
 
A courtyard in the Monterey Conference Center designated as “Jeffers Plaza” is now enhanced by a suite of bronze sculptures, installed as a gift of the Tor House Foundation. See “Robinson Jeffers” https://www.montereycountyweekly.com/entertainment/local_inspiration/robinson-jeffers/article_80d9d7da-998a-11eb-9aab-5f0bb89fe644.html and “New bronze sculptures grace Monterey Conference Center” https://www.montereyherald.com/2021/04/09/new-bronze-sculptures-grace-monterey-conference-center.
 
“Hands” by Jeffers is cited in the concluding paragraph of “The Splendor of Ruins” by Macduff Everton in the March 1, 2020, issue of the Saturday Evening Post: https://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2020/02/the-splendor-of-ruins.
 
We received word earlier this year that EVA HESSE, Jeffers’ German translator, died March 30, 2020. An overview of her career can be found in a description of the Eva Hesse Archive at https://www.en.amerikanistik.uni-muenchen.de/research/archive/eva-hesse-archive/index.html.
 
HAMILTON JEFFERS, brother of Robinson, is included among astronomers discussed in Seeing the Unseen: Mount Wilson’s Role in High Angular Resolution Astronomy (IOP Publishing, 2020):
https://iopscience.iop.org/book/978-0-7503-2208-9/chapter/bk978-0-7503-2208-9ch5.
 
Several poems by Jeffers are cited in Beyond Philosophy: Nietzsche, Foucault, Anzaldúa by Nancy Tuana and Charles E. Scott (Indiana University Press, 2020). See Chapter 8, “livingdying”: https://iupress.org/9780253049834/beyond-philosophy.
 
A discussion of Jeffers is included in “Nature, Inaction and Illusion: The Influence of Taosim on American Poetry in the 20th Century” by Zhu Lihong and Wang Feng. European Journal of Applied Linguistics Studies, Vol. 3, No. 1, 2020: https://oapub.org/lit/index.php/EJALS/article/view/200/229.

 

Message from the President ~ January 2021

January 2021
 
“All things are full of gods,” said Thales twenty-five hundred years ago. Whatever he may have meant by that, I thought of his claim recently when I encountered the name of a Roman deity previously unknown to me, or long forgotten: Cardea, goddess of hinges. Yes, hinges. Cardea was a beautiful nymph of the wilderness when Janus spotted her and, as usually happens in such tales, fell immediately in love. In gratitude for surrendering to his will, Janus gave Cardea power over doorways—more specifically, over the dowel-like pivot hinges at the top and bottom of a door that allowed it to swing open and closed. This was a gift and a power only he could bestow, because Janus—the gatekeeper-god with two faces, one looking forward and the other back—presided over the beginning and end of things, over entries and exits, thresholds, and transitions. The first moment in every day belonged to him, as did the first day of every month, and the first month of every year: January. In accepting Janus’ gift, which marked a major change in life for her, Cardea became the defender of boundaries, the guardian of civil and domestic spaces, and the special protector of children within the home. Words like “cardiology” and “cardinal” derive from her, for she was at the heart of things, central to them, fundamental. Wherever something turned on something else—not just doors, but anything axial, such as the earth on its poles, or the heavens around the north star—she was there. Pivotal moments in a person’s or a nation’s life were a concern of hers as well.
 
Perhaps Cardea is with us still, or if not her specifically, then the numinous power she represents—for if ever there was a pivotal moment in American history, the one we are in right now, this very month of January, would qualify. Will Covid-19 be conquered? Will the Black Lives Matter movement make a difference? Can the environment be saved? Are women free and equal, along with all people generally, no matter who they are and how they choose to live? Is America a democratic country? Will the economy survive? With 2020 behind us, the year in which all these issues came to the fore, and 2021 just now underway, we’ll find out soon enough. One thing is certain: forces beyond anyone’s control have been unleashed—from the magnified fury of natural events (fires, hurricanes, pandemics) to the anger erupting in the halls of Congress and on America’s streets. A revolution of some sort is in the air.
 
Amidst all this, the Robinson Jeffers Association managed to fulfill its mission. Looking back at the past year, we see a number of new names added to our membership list (please renew your membership, if you haven’t done so already); guided by editors Jim Baird and Whitney Hoth, we published two issues of Jeffers Studies; Tim Hunt and Mick McAllister overhauled our website; and with the help of Jessica Hunt, we presented two well-attended webinars. As we look forward to the year ahead, we hope to maintain our momentum with two more issues of Jeffers Studies (contributions welcome), additions to our website, and a series of thought-provoking webinars. We also hope to host an October conference in Carmel, held in conjunction with the Tor House Foundation, provided it is safe to meet at that time. A talented team of officers is committed to helping us achieve our goals: president-elect Aaron Yoshinobu, executive director Brett Colasacco, and advisory board members Gere diZerega, Tim Hunt, and Robert Zaller.
 
Our next webinar is set for later this month—Thursday, January 28, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Pacific time. Tim Hunt will moderate a panel discussion of three poems by Jeffers that directly address political issues: “Shine, Perishing Republic,” “Shine, Republic,” and “Shine, Empire.”  Participants include Shelley Alden Brooks, Whitney Hoth, and Robert Zaller. Additional information about the program will follow in a separate announcement.
 
The three poems selected for the webinar were published in 1925, 1935, and 1941 respectively—all major moments in American and world history. Jeffers regarded the entire period in which he lived as a turning point, or breaking point, for civilization. “I believe that we live about the summit of the wave of this age,” he says in the introduction to At the Birth of an Age (published in Solstice, the book that contains “Shine, Republic”), “and hence can see it more objectively, looking down toward the troughs on both sides.” However frightening it might be to live through a period of tumultuous change, the process—whether seen as rising and falling, opening and closing, or beginning and ending—is natural and, for Jeffers, divine. “All things are full of God,” he says in “De Rerum Virtute,” affirming Thales’ basic principle while giving it a pantheistic spin: “Winter and summer, day and night, war and peace are God.” Jeffers said the same thing in different ways throughout his career, but never more eloquently than in the closing lines of “Point Pinos and Point Lobos”: “For the essence and the end / Of his labor is beauty, for goodness and evil are two things and still variant, but the quality of life as of death and of light / As of darkness is one, one beauty, the rhythm of that Wheel, and who can behold it is happy and will praise it to the people.”

James Karman
Emeritus Professor
Department of English
Department of Comparative Religion and Humanities
California State University, Chico
 


News from Jeffers Country
 
RJA welcomes new members BRUCE and DEBBIE GRELLE (Chico, CA), TONY and SONDRA KARMAN (Chicago, IL), ADAM KLINKER (Genoa, NE), TRIFIN ROULE (Silver Spring, MD), and JOSÉ SENTMANAT (Riverside, CA).
 
ENRIQUE MARTINEZ CELAYA, Provost Professor of Humanities and Arts at the University of Southern California, plans to create a series of Jeffers-inspired paintings at Tor House as soon as travel allows. Celaya has written about Jeffers in Collected Writings and Interviews, 2010–2017 (University of Nebraska Press, 2020) and other works: nebraskapress.unl.edu/search/?keyword=Celaya. See also martinezcelaya.com.
 
Poet, cowboy, Jeffers scholar, and Old Norse professor JACKSON CRAWFORD has attracted a large following on YouTube. A selection of his videos, a few of which deal with Jeffers, can be accessed through his website (scroll down to “Miscellaneous”): jacksonwcrawford.com.
 
RJA member ED CROCKER noticed a detail on the cover of the first edition of Thurso’s Landing: a hammer and sickle beneath the gilt illustration of a crouching woman, made to look like the artist’s initials. Although the name of the artist responsible for the cover design is not known for certain, some evidence points to Franz Felix (1892–1967). Thurso’s Landing was published in 1932, when admiration for the Soviet Union was high. 
 
GENEVA GANO published “The Poetry of Ecological Witness: Robinson Jeffers and Camille T. Dungy” in ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, Vol. 27, Iss. 3 (2020): academic.oup.com/isle/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/isle/isaa088/5918080.
 
PETR KOPECKY contributed a chapter titled “Czeching American Nature Images in the Work of Robinson Jeffers and John Steinbeck” to Framing the Environmental Humanities, edited by Hannes Bergthaller and Peter Bjerre Mortensen (Brill, 2018): brill.com/view/title/36037.
 
Jeffers is included in a ten-disc set of audio CDs titled The Poets’ Collection: Englischsprachige Lyrik im Originalton und in deutscher Übersetzung [The Poets’ Collection: English-Language Poetry in the Original Language and in German Translation], edited by Christiane Collorio and Michael Krüger (der Höverlag / Random House, 2018): randomhouse.de/Hoerbuch/The-Poets-Collection/Christiane-Collorio/der-Hoerverlag/e496225.rhd.
 
MARIA POPOVA included an article on Jeffers in her popular Brainpicking newsletter. See “Robinson Jeffers on Moral Beauty, the Interconnectedness of the Universe, and the Key to Peace of Mind”: brainpickings.org/2019/06/03/robinson-jeffers-sister-mary-james-power.
 
 
Recently completed PhD dissertations and MA theses:
 
FRÉDÉRIC POUPON, Trois poètes du sauvage: Robinson Jeffers, Gary Snyder et Kenneth White, thèse de doctorat, Littératures française, francophonees et comparée, Université Bordeaux Montaigne, 2020.
 
KATHARINE BUBEL, Edge Effects: Poetry, Place and Spiritual Practices, University of Victoria, 2018.  Bubel’s PhD dissertation “focusses on the intersection of the environmental and religious imaginations in the work of five West Coast poets: Robinson Jeffers, Theodore Roethke, Robert Hass, Denise Levertov, and Jan Zwicky.” Bubel also wrote the Jeffers entry for The Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism, edited by Stephen Ross (Routledge, 2016).
 
JOSHUA D. BARTEE, Reality and Nature in Robinson Jeffers, PhD dissertation, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2017. In this study of the words Jeffers uses to communicate his thoughts, Bartee contends that Jeffers’ “poetry is ecological, but it is also cosmological, and with this equation Jeffers created some of the most profoundly wild and spiritual language of the Modernist era.”
 
MARK A. HUTTON, “Only the Earth Remains: Exploring the Machine in Selected Lyric Poetry of Robinson Jeffers,” MA thesis, East Tennessee State University, 2017.
 
CHRISTINA M. BERTRAND, “Place, Space, and the Not-Self: A Study in Ecopoetics,” MA thesis, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, 2017.
 
 
Books containing chapters about or extended references to Jeffers:  
 
Robyn Creswell, City of Beginnings: Poetic Modernism in Beirut (Princeton University Press, 2019): press.princeton.edu/books/hardcover/9780691182186/city-of-beginnings.
 
Gouven Le Brech, Échappées océanes: sur les pas de Jean Grenier, Albert Camus, Fernando Pessoa, Llewelyn Powys, Nescio, Kenneth Rexroth, Robinson Jeffers et Jack Kerouac (Éditions du Petit pavé, 2018): petitpave.fr/petit-pave-echappees-oceanes-710.html.
 
David Mason, “To Humanize the Inhumanist” in Voices, Places: Essays (Paul Dry Books, 2018): pauldrybooks.com/products/voices-places?_pos=5&_sid=c11e54177&_ss=r.
 
Peter O’Leary, “Robinson Jeffers: The Man from Whom God Hid Everything” in Thick and Dazzling Darkness: Religious Poetry in a Secular Age (Columbia University Press, 2018): columbia.edu/book/thick-and-dazzling-darkness/9780231173308.
 
Joy A. Palmer-Cooper and David E. Cooper, editors, Key Thinkers on the Environment (Routledge, 2018): routledge.com/Key-Thinkers-on-the-Environment/Cooper-Cooper/p/book/9781138684737.
 
Peter Betjemann, “The Ecology of Desire: Coastal Poetics, Passion, and Environmental Consciousness” in Coastal Heritage and Cultural Resilience, edited by Lisa L. Price and Nemer E. Narchi (Springer, 2018): springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-319-99025-5.
 
Claudia Keelan, “A Hinge-History: Robinson Jeffers and Brenda Hillman,” Ecstatic Émigré: An Ethics of Practice (University of Michigan Press, 2018): press.umich.edu/9867982/ecstatic_emigre.
 
Leslie Williamson, Interior Portraits: At Home with Cultural Pioneers and Creative Mavericks: A California Design Pilgrimage (Rizzoli International, 2018): rizzoliusa.com/book/9780847861569.
 
 
Journal articles:
 
Julian Murphet, “Astonied: The Mineral Poetics of Robinson Jeffers, Hugh MacDiarmid, Francis Ponge and Muriel Rukeyser,” Textual Practice, Vol. 34, Iss. 9 (2020): tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0950236X.2020.1808298.
 
Pradip Mondal, “‘These Grand and Fatal Movements Toward Death’: Apocalyptic Visions in Robinson Jeffers’s Poetry,” Literary Criterion, Vol. 53, Iss. 1-2 (2018): printspublications.com/journal/the-literary-criterion.
 
Jarosław Zawadzki, “Robinson Jeffers’s Inhumanism vs. Tao’s Unconcern,” Studia Litteraria Universitatis lagellonicae Cracoviensis, Vol. 13, Iss. 4 (2018): ejournals.eu/Studia-Litteraria/2018/Volume-13-Issue-4.