Message from the President ~ September 2021

September 2021
 
In “The Torch-Bearers’ Race,” Jeffers reflects on the progress of Western civilization as “it gleamed across Euphrates mud, shone on Nile shore” and then “lightened / The little homely Ionian water and the sweet Aegean.” Passed along by poets with “names like the stars’ names, Sappho, Alcaeus, / And Aeschylus,” the Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian tradition spread through Europe, crossed the Atlantic, and continued westward until, on the California coast, it reached a geographical—if not a spiritual and intellectual—end. As a late runner in that race, facing the “huge, inhuman, remote, unruled” ocean, Jeffers wondered what could possibly happen next.
 
I thought of this poem when I received word that Robert Brophy died, for Bob was a torch-bearer in the field of Jeffers studies. He was the primary link between readers and scholars who came of age in the first half of the twentieth century and those who came after. Melba Berry Bennett, the founding editor of the Robinson Jeffers Newsletter, reported on Bob’s dissertation research in the February 1964 issue (no. 4), telling readers that he “has tapped every source of information on both the east and west coasts and has been generous in keeping us informed.” By the time Bob completed his graduate studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill—with a dissertation titled “Structure, Symbol, and Myth in Selected Narratives of Robinson Jeffers” (1966)—he was already teaching at the University of San Francisco. Two years later, he accepted a position at California State University, Long Beach, where he remained for the rest of his career. In 1969, following the death of Melba Bennett, Bob took over as editor of the Newsletter, a position he held for almost thirty years. During that time, as Jeffers’ contemporaries passed away and new generations of scholars appeared, Bob was at the very center of Jeffers’ world, in touch with an international community of readers interested in the poet’s life and work. As a founding member of the Robinson Jeffers Association when it was established in 1990, and as the founding senior editor of Jeffers Studies when it was launched in 1997, Bob continued to inspire others. The course he set is the one we are on today. 
 
Because many current members of RJA never met Bob and may be unfamiliar with his legacy, I asked former presidents and our president-elect to say a few words about him. Their names are listed in the order in which they served. Two former presidents are no longer with us—Alex Vardamis, who died in 2014, and Ron Olowin, who died in 2017. Both shared Bob’s passion for literature and his selfless commitment to a higher cause. Please visit our website to read more about Bob, and to offer your own memorial message.
 
Tim Hunt: “Those of us who worked with Bob over the years knew him as a gracious and generous mentor.  Through his scholarship, through his editorial work, through his work with RJA, and through his teaching, he was the architect of what has become the Jeffers scholarly community, and he was its informing spirit.”
 
Robert Zaller: “Although several fine studies of Jeffers’ work existed, Bob’s study of myth, ritual, and symbol in his narratives achieved a range and a depth of insight that made it the foundational work of modern Jeffers scholarship, as it is indispensable to any student today. But no less important was his guidance and friendship for so many of us over the years, and perhaps most of all his great graciousness of spirit and his unwavering commitment to the values of justice and compassion he held so dear.”
 
Fran Vardamis, for Alex Vardamis: “He was, in his way, and in all ways, the soul for the Robinson Jeffers Newsletter and the godfather of Jeffers Studies. Jeffers scholarship owes an enormous debt to him. Lucky he was with us, and with his students, all those 93 years.”
 
Jim Baird: “I met Bob in 1974 when he came to North Texas to give a talk on Jeffers and thereby began my work as a scholar as well as a reader.  He helped me gain access to Tor House for my first visit there in 1977, reviewed and improved my contributions to the newsletter and the journal, surveyed my publications and recommended that I be promoted—and those are just a few of the things he did for me.  I know he helped countless others in the same way.”
 
Peter Quigley: “Without Bob’s generosity of spirit and welcoming warmth combined with his careful and loving treatment of Jeffers’ verse, the last three decades of my life would have been very different and much less rich.” 
 
David Rothman: “It was Bob who encouraged me to revise a chapter from my dissertation on Jeffers’ verse craft for Robinson Jeffers: Dimensions of a Poet, a book he edited for Fordham University Press. Bob was unfailingly kind and patient, yet highly (highly!) attentive to detail, as he shepherded my essay through the publication process. Bob drew me into the warmest, most engaging, supportive community of scholars and writers I had ever known.”
 
Geneva Gano: “Bob was incredibly dedicated to the Robinson Jeffers Association and I believe it is an understatement to say that his work was transformational and enduring.  He was so kind to me, and to so many. This world will miss him.”
 
Rob Kafka: “Apart from his perspicacity on matters touching Jeffers’ life and work, it is his mentorship and unstinting generosity that I remember most vividly about Bob—along with his quiet vivacity and engagement. I once knew someone who, after meeting Bob, commented to me that he had “dancing eyes.” Yes, he did. That is how I wish to remember him.”
 
Aaron Yoshinobu: “As an academic geologist presenting for the first time at a meeting of the RJA back in 2004, I had no idea what the response would be to my small contribution to Jeffers scholarship. After I spoke, Bob Brophy approached me with the kindest smile, an assuring handshake, and words of encouragement. I was floored; I simply could not believe that the man who had initiated the deep and rich scholarship of Jeffers was even marginally interested in what I said. Bob went on to send me many emails about Jeffers, my work, and the intersection of poetry, stone masonry and science. His gentle smile and earnestness I shall never forget.” 
 
In Jeffers’ poem we find words for a fitting epitaph:
 
            The torch-bearers’ race: it is run in a dusk; when the emptied racer drops
                  unseen at the end of his course
            A fresh hand snatches the hilt of the light, the torch flies onward
            Though the man die. Not a runner knows where the light was lighted, not
                  a runner knows where it carries fire to,
            Hand kisses hand in the dark, the torch passes, the man
            Falls, and the torch passes.
 
Ave atque vale
Hail and farewell
 
 
James Karman
Emeritus Professor
Department of English
Department of Comparative Religion and Humanities
California State University, Chico
 


News from Jeffers Country
 
We warmly welcome new RJA members ROBERT ATWAN (Pasadena, CA), JOSHUA BARTEE (Las Vegas, NV), KATHARINE BUBEL (Delta, British Columbia), and ANTONIA DOSIK (Yellow Springs, OH).
 
Volume 21 of Jeffers Studies will be mailed out within the next few weeks. The issue contains essays by TIM HUNT, JAMES KARMAN, ROBERT ZALLER, and newcomer KATHRYN CHEW, along with an editor’s note by JIM BAIRD and a review of GENEVA GANO’S recently published book, The Little Art Colony and US Modernism: Carmel, Provincetown, Taos, by WHITNEY HOTH. Plans for the September 2022 issue of Jeffers Studies are already underway, so please submit your proposals soon to: jseditor@robinsonjeffersassociation.org. Guidelines for submissions can be found on the RJA website.
 
Our fifth webinar, co-sponsored by RJA and the Tor House Foundation, was titled “New Voices and New Directions in Jeffers Scholarship” and featured presentations by KATHARINE BUBEL, BRETT COLASACCO, and GENEVA GANO. The well-received event was hosted by TIM HUNT and produced by JESSICA HUNT. A video recording will be available on the RJA website soon.
 
The publication date of The Point Alma Venus Manuscripts, edited by TIM HUNT and ROB KAFKA, has been postponed by Stanford University Press to January 2022.
 
Like Mabel Dodge Luhan in Lorenzo in Taos, RACHEL CUSK frames her new novel, Second Place, as an address to “Jeffers.” Second Place is on the long list for the 2021 Booker Prize.
us.macmillan.com/books/9780374279226
 
It’s Always 9/11, a dystopic political thriller by WENDY AVRA GORDON, begins with an epigraph by Jeffers—a quotation from “The Eye.”
barnesandnoble.com/w/its-always-9-11-wendy-avra-gordon
 
For the protagonist of A Parable of Lies —“an experiment in healing fiction”—by LAWRENCE SPANN, Jeffers is an important source of insight and wisdom.
amazon.com/Parable-Lies-Lawrence-Spann
 
A student essay by ADAM LUNDQUIST, titled “Dark Mountain’s Uncivilized Writing and Robinson Jeffers,” can be found on the Göteborgs Universitet website: https://gupea.ub.gu.se/handle/2077/68305

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.