Jeffers & Modern American Poetry

In the summer of 1965, I was fifteen and hated poetry.  That changed when I happened on the work of Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962) in the Sebastopol Public Library (thank you, Andrew Carnegie).  Although Jeffers had been hailed as a major American poet in the 1920s and 1930s, his collections were then mostly out of print, and his poems were largely absent from the major teaching anthologies that, in practice, defined the tradition.  In 1965 T.S. Eliot still ruled the canon.  Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, H.D., and Wallace Stevens were finally starting to receive the recognition they and their work deserved and renewed attention to Langston Hughes, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and others would soon follow. Jeffers, though, was a footnote in critical and historical discussions of American poetry–and barely that.

In the decades since that chance encounter, I’ve continued to read and think about Jeffers’ work. Having edited The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers (a five-volume project published by Stanford University Press) is the most obvious result. But the questions posed by Jeffers’ poetry have also factored into my thinking about writing as a textual medium (a strand of reflection taken up elsewhere on this site), my own poetry, and (most relevant here) my thinking about the American poetic tradition, especially in the first half of the twentieth century, which we tend to think of as the era of modernism.

The thumbnails for The Collected Poetry, The Selected Poetry, and Jim Karman’s masterful The Collected Letters link to the Stanford University Press website pages for these projects.  Those interested in Jeffers may also want to explore the programs and resources of The Robinson Jeffers Association and The Tor House Foundation.

The links that follow provide access to various articles and conference papers that I’ve written over the years.  A few focus on editorial matters, and several are informed by the research involved in preparing The Collected Poetry, but most of them explore Jeffers’ poetry from various critical and historical perspectives.  In the coming year or two I expect that some of these pieces will be reworked and folded into the oft-disrupted and long-deferred book on Jeffers in the context of modern and modernist poetry.  In the meantime, they are posted here on the chance they might be of use and interest.

[This page and the material related to it is being reorganized and new material being added.  The reorganization should be completed by early December]