Jeffers & Modern American Poetry

The summer of 1966 when I first encountered the poetry of Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962), his collections were mostly out of print, his work wasn’t included in the teaching anthologies, and he had become little more than a footnote in critical and historical discussions of American poetry.  T.S. Eliot, then, still dominated the literary histories and the curriculum. And Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, H.D., Wallace Stevens, and major modern American poets were finally starting to receive the recognition they and their work deserved, to be followed soon by H.D. and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Jeffers, though, had been largely forgotten, in spite of having been viewed as a major American poet in the 192os and 1930s.

In the decades since that chance encounter in the Sebastopol Public Library (thank you, Andrew Carnegie), I’ve continued to read Jeffers and think about his 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 for this entry) 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 books and to lightly edited drafts of various conference papers and articles that focus on Jeffers and his poetry.  Some of these pieces develop critical implications of the textual research that was part of preparing The Collected Poetry but which would have been out of place in that context.  Others are critical arguments.  The pieces 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.