News ~ September 2020

News from Jeffers Country
 

Welcome new members BEN BOYCHUK (Running Springs, CA), BRUCE GRANT (Scottsdale, AZ), JESSICA HUNT (Baltimore, MD), FRANK TAKACS (Carmel, CA), ARLEEN TARANTINO (Carmel, CA), and ALICE YAMANISHI (Monterey, CA).
 
An important new book project is currently underway—The Point Alma Venus Manuscripts: Preliminary Versions of “The Women at Point Sur,” edited by Tim Hunt and Rob Kafka. Stanford University Press has a projected publication date of June 2021. In addition to transcriptions of four substantial fragments that predate The Women at Point Sur, the volume will contain an introduction, chronology, and critical afterword—all of which will shed new light on Jeffers’ maturation as a poet at a key moment in his career.
 
Congratulations to Geneva Gano, former president of RJA, who has just published The Little Art Colony and US Modernism: Carmel, Provincetown, Taos (Edinburgh University Press, 2020). The book is described by the publisher as “the first to historicise and theorise the significance of the early twentieth-century little art colony as a uniquely modern social formation within a global network of modernist activity and production. Alongside a historical overview of the emergence of three critical sites of modernist activity—the little art colonies of Carmel, Provincetown and Taos—the book offers new critical readings of major authors associated with those places: Robinson Jeffers, Eugene O’Neill and D. H. Lawrence.” Click here to see the full publisher’s flyer, which includes a discount code for those interested in purchasing the book (or asking their library to do so).
 
Geneva also has an essay scheduled for publication in the autumn issue of ISLE (Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment): “The Poetry of Ecological Witness: Robinson Jeffers and Camille T. Dungy.” Check ISLE’s website for an electronic version.
 
Michael Broomfield has added an important addendum to His Place for Story: Robinson Jeffers: A Descriptive Bibliography. On the Oak Knoll website, click “Author’s Addendum (PDF)” just below the description of the book and order number: oakknoll.com/pages/books/119716/michael-broomfield/his-place-for-story-robinson-jeffers-a-descriptive-bibliography.
 
The 2020 Robinson Jeffers Prize for Poetry, sponsored by the Tor House Foundation, was won by Jerl Surratt of Hudson, New York, for his poem “Twilight Time.” Judge Marie Howe also awarded Honorable Mentions to Joanne M. Clarkson, Lesléa Newman, Ellen Romano, and Jess Skyleson. The winning poems can be found at torhouse.org/prize.
 
Jeffers, H. D., and Eugene O’Neill are included in a discussion of Aeschylean drama in modern literature in an essay titled “Reception Theory, New Humanism, and T. S. Eliot” by Matthew Hiscock, published in Classical Receptions Journal, vol. 12, no. 3, July 2020, pp. 323–39: doi.org/10.1093/crj/clz033.
 
California’s Wild Coast, an updated edition of California’s Wild Edge (2015), a book of “poetry, prints, and history” by woodcut artist Tom Killion with poet Gary Snyder, has just been published by Heyday Books in Berkeley.
 
The September issue of Harper’s magazine contains a major article by University of Kentucky professor Erik Reece titled “Bright Power, Dark Peace: Robinson Jeffers and the Hope of Human Extinction.” The article can be accessed here:
harpers.org/archive/2020/09/bright-power-dark-peace-robinson-jeffers-tor-house.
 
The San Francisco Chronicle published a feature article on Jeffers by California journalist Scott Anderson in its Sunday, September 13, edition. The article is available on the Chronicle website: datebook.sfchronicle.com/books/tech-trends-and-a-captivating-destination-help-california-rediscover-its-greatest-nature-writer.
 
Because of the pandemic quarantine that was imposed in March, the Philadelphia Orchestra canceled the concert that was to include the premiere of Jessica Hunt’s Climb. A new concert, which puts Jessica in company with Mozart and Brahms (instead of Beethoven) is now scheduled for October 15: philorch.org/performances/our-season/events-and-tickets/fall-2020-season/axmozart-piano-concerto-no-14. When not teaching as a professor at the Peabody Institute, Jessica serves as RJA’s social media coordinator.
 
“A Big Sur Sojourn: Scouting the Rugged Sea-Meets-Landscape that Fired the Imagination of So Many Writers,” a story by Elliott Almond with photographs by Karl Mondon, was published in the Bay Area Mercury News, May 17, 2020: pressreader.com/usa/the-mercury-news/20200517/284288187216697.
 
A previously unrecorded review of Be Angry at the Sun surfaced recently. Written by A. M. Klein in 1942 and originally published in the Canadian Jewish Chronicle, the review is titled “Robinson Jeffers—Proto-Fascist?” Acknowledging Jeffers’ genius as a poet, Klein nevertheless wonders why he wrote about Hitler the way he did in “The Bowl of Blood” and other poems. The review is included in Klein’s Literary Essays and Reviews, edited by Usher Caplan and M. W. Steinberg (University of Toronto, 1987). It can also be found in the journal itself, available at Google News. See page 4 of the February 6, 1942 issue: news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2Q0AJrNhS-QC.

Message from the President ~ May 2020

Readers of Robinson Jeffers are accustomed to finding words of wisdom in his letters and poetry that address issues of timely concern—even issues as far from Jeffers himself as the outbreak of Covid-19. The word “pestilence,” for instance, appears in Passenger Pigeons, a poem about mass extinction and humanity’s false belief in its own invulnerability. The word “plague” shows up in There is this infinite energy, a poem that urges us to see beauty in everything. And the word “virus” is featured in The unformed volcanic earth, a poem that describes the first major stage of life as a virus floating on the surface of a primal ocean. These, and any number of other poems (we all have our favorites), are worth rereading as we ponder the Hydra-like crisis we’re facing.

Before the pandemic arrived, an RJA ad hoc committee was working out the details of a partnership with the Tor House Foundation, whereby RJA scholars would provide most of the program material for the 2020 THF Fall Festival. If the partnership proved successful, the RJA membership would then consider the possibility of dropping its annual February conference and joining THF each October instead. Due to the ongoing need for social distancing, however, this year’s Fall Festival has been canceled. Since it is uncertain when it will be safe for people to socialize as usual, all plans are currently on hold. We will keep you informed of developments as they occur.

Fortunately, other RJA initiatives are untouched by the pandemic. The next issue of Jeffers Studies, for instance, is already in a preliminary phase of production. Also, a thorough revision of our website is nearing completion. Tim Hunt, with the assistance of Mick McAllister, has steered the project through a number of challenges, including a move to a more dependable host and the creation of a whole new set of operating protocols. In order to improve the look of the website, new graphics will be added soon.

Meanwhile, before life returns to “normal”—which means more human activity—we can all enjoy, so long as we stay healthy, the quiet city streets, cleaner air, and slower pace of life. Such immediate and apparent changes point to a reservoir of strength in nature. As Jeffers says in Metamorphoses, “the beauty of earth is a resilient wonderful thing, / It dies and lives, it is capable of many resurrections.” For an example, Jeffers describes a canyon where redwoods once stood in “hushed and holy” grandeur. Having been clear-cut for lumber, the canyon looks utterly cursed; only “Grim stumps remain, and naked raw earth torn by tractors.” But come back in two or three years, Jeffers says, “and see the vines hiding the stumps, the flowering bushes and vines; and here is the holy grass again.”

The same sort of recovery seems to be occurring now—after just a few weeks of quarantine, not years. In California, where I live, signs of it are everywhere. For the first time ever, my wife and I saw a Western Bluebird in our front yard. We’ve heard of sightings in the farmlands and orchards near the Sacramento River, but not in town. When it flew from an oak tree, the flash of brilliant blue was almost blinding. A friend of ours who lost his home in the nearby Camp Fire eighteen months ago (the fire that destroyed the entire town of Paradise, killed 85 people, and blackened an area the size of Chicago), returned to rebuild his life there. With far fewer people now living even quieter lives, nature is naturing. A black bear and her cub rambled through “his” property a couple of weeks ago; a few days later, he saw a mountain lion lounging in a nearby tree. In Yosemite and other wild places where the tourist population has suddenly disappeared, the old order is returning, with animals roaming the park freely. Come back in a million years, Jeffers says in Metamorphoses, “My God the place is beautiful! green sun-trap between the mountains, / The flashing stream sings in the light.”

A long view is one thing, but dealing with an immediate crisis is another. Fortunately, Jeffers has something to say about that, too. In The Poet in a Democracy, his 1941 address delivered at the Library of Congress on the eve of World War II, Jeffers reflects on the inevitable breakdown of civilization. “When at length it wears out and crumbles under us,” he says, “we can ‘plot the agony of resurrection’ and make a new age. Our business is to live. To live through . . . anything. And to keep alive, through everything, our ideal values, of freedom and courage, and mercy and tolerance.”

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

News ~ May 2020

We extend a warm welcome to new members of RJA: CORAL AMENDE, Incline Village, Nevada; BROOKS COLBURN, Westport, Connecticut; ED CROCKER, Norman, Oklahoma; JERRY FOWLER, Chico, California; GARIN HAY, Davis, California; KATIE PETERSON, Berkeley, California; ALBERT STRICKLAND, Capitola, California; and JULIET SPOHN TWOMEY, Carmel, California.

Congratulations to DEBORAH FLEMING, professor, poet, Jeffers scholar, and author of Towers of Myth & Stone: Yeats’s Influence on Robinson Jeffers (University of South Carolina Press, 2015), who recently won a major literary award. Her new book, Resurrection of the Wild: Meditations on Ohio’s Natural Landscape (Kent State University Press, 2019), won the 2020 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. Previous winners include Ursula K. Le Guin, Ian Buruma, and Robert Hass, so Deborah is in excellent company. The judges had this to say: “Fleming’s Ohio is a template for [the] planet, and her essays explore the zoology, botany, and anthropology of her home ground with astonishing specificity and Thoreauvian passion. Hummingbirds peck on her window if she is late serving up the nectar. The depredations of fracking and strip mining are described like the torture of [a] body. We meet the Amish in all their admirable, clannish, and cagey variations. The seasons come alive and then slumber. In places, this is an elegy: ‘The earth has made us what we are, sustains us, and will take us back again when we have seen our share of passing seasons.’ Elsewhere, it is joyful and hopeful: ‘We need only look around to see that nature is trying to show us the gate that will lead us back inside.’ Fleming’s work holds a key to that gate.” For more information see: https://pen.org/pen-diamonstein-spielvogel-award-for-the-art-of-the-essay/.

A book by and about Buddhist scholar and environmental activist JOANNA MACY, who spoke eloquently about Jeffers’ influence on her life and work at the Tor House Foundation Fall Festival in October 2019, has just been published. A description of the book, titled A Wild Love for the World: Joanna Macy and the Work of Our Time (Shambhala, 2020), is available here: https://www.shambhala.com/a-wild-love-for-the-world.html. Joanna is also featured in a series of articles titled “Joanna Macy and the Great Turning” in the May 2020 issue of Lion’s Roar. The issue includes an interview with editor Melvin McLeod: https://www.lionsroar.com/joanna-macy-on-the-great-awakening-the-planet-needs/.

Jeffers is referenced in an article by ROBERT ZALLER, “‘What’s Living but Courage?’: The Poetry of R. S. Thomas,” published in the Spring 2020 issue of Boulevard.

An article by DANA GIOIA, Poet Laureate Emeritus of California and former director of the National Endowment for the Arts, was published in the Winter 2020 issue of Fine Books & Collections. Titled “In Love with Language,” the illustrated article contains Gioia’s thoughts on “reading, writing, and collecting California authors”—including Jeffers.

ROB KAFKA was awarded the Lawrence Clark Powell Award for Distinguished Achievement at RJA’s February 2020 conference in Carmel—in recognition of his lifetime of service and accomplishment as a Jeffers scholar, editor of Jeffers Studies, and officer of RJA. Rob’s latest project, Visits to the British Isles, a transcription of the Jeffers family travel diaries from 1929, 1937, 1948, and 1956, is currently in the hands of Norris Pope, who is preparing the manuscript for publication by Tor House Press.

During the business meeting at the February conference, a new RJA Mission Statement was approved: “The Robinson Jeffers Association encourages and supports scholarly and critical work focused on or related to Robinson Jeffers, seeks to enhance awareness of and appreciation for Jeffers’ contributions to American and world literature across academic disciplines and for the general public, and sponsors programming and publications that advance these goals.”

“Vulture” by Robinson Jeffers is included in American Birds: A Literary Companion, edited by Andrew Rubenfeld and Terry Tempest Williams (Library of America, 2020).

Jeffers’ adaptation of Medea was performed in May 2019 by the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. Directed by Peter J. Kuo, the innovative production was set in 1930s New Orleans. See: http://blog.act-sf.org/2019/04/nobody-puts-medea-or-dashwood-sisters.html and http://blog.act-sf.org/2018/12/act-welcomes-associate-conservatory.html.

Stories in Stone: Travels Through Urban Geology by David B. Williams, originally published in 2009, was reissued by the University of Washington Press in 2019. The book contains a new preface and features a chapter on Jeffers titled “Poetry in Stone—Carmel Granite.”

“Jeffers’ Axe: The Instability of Nonviolence,” an essay by Brian Glaser, was published in Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society, Volume 24, Issue 1 (March 2019), pp. 1–14.

Jeffers is among the many “Voices in Time” cited in Lapham’s Quarterly: Climate, Volume XII, Number 4 (Fall 2019).

A chapter titled “Without Meeting Each Other: Czech Mediators of Willa Cather and Robinson Jeffers” by Marcel Arbeit is included in Transatlantic Intellectual Networks, 1914–1964, edited by Hans Bak and Céline Mansanti (Cambridge Scholars, 2019)