Jeffers & Modern American Poetry

I was fifteen and hated poetry when I first happened on the work of Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962).  Although Jeffers had been hailed as a major American poet in the 1920s and 1930s, his work then was mostly out of print and largely absent from the major teaching anthologies that, in practice, defined the tradition.  That summer of 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 would soon be followed by Langston Hughes, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and others. Jeffers was, at most, a footnote in critical and historical discussions of American poetry.

In the decades since that chance encounter in the Sebastopol Public Library (thank you, Andrew Carnegie), I’ve continued to read and think about Jeffers’ work. The five-volume project, The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers (Stanford University Press) is the most visible result of that. But the questions posed by Jeffers’ work 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 below lead to fuller descriptions of the editions and to lightly edited drafts of conference papers and articles that focus on Jeffers and his poetry,  which are offered here as a kind of place holder as I work on an oft-disrupted and long-deferred book focusing on Jeffers in the context of modern and modernist poetry.