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Celebrating Robinson Jeffers, today at Occidental College

October 1, 2009 | 10:33 am

Torhouse

Robinson Jeffers, one of the earliest literary heroes of California, will be the focus of a five-week Big Read project at Occidental College, kicking off today with readings and the opening of an exhibit, "Robinson Jeffers and the Ecologies of Poetry."

Jeffers and his wife Una, after they married in 1913, had hoped to move to England but were dissuaded by the onset of World War I. Instead they traveled west, and found a home along the wild coast near Carmel. "For the first time in my life," he later wrote, "I could see people living -- amid magnificent and unspoiled scenery -- essentially as they did in the Idyls or the Sagas, or in Homer's Ithaca." In his poem "The Continent's End," he put it this way:

At the equinox when the earth was veiled in a late rain, wreathed with wet poppies, waiting spring,
The ocean swelled for a far storm and beat its boundary, the ground-swell shook the beds of granite.

I gazing at the boundaries of granite and spray, the established sea-marks, felt behind me
Mountain and plain, the immense breadth of the continent, before me the mass and double stretch of water.
The Big Read, a project of the National Endowment for the Arts, supports community-based reading focused around a single book or author, supplying teaching materials and other resources as well incidentals including bookmarks and T-shirts. There will be, Occidental's blog about the project promises, T-shirts tonight; donations will support the Wildlife Waystation.

Nature was essential to Jeffers' work. "To feel / Greatly, and understand greatly, and express greatly, the natural / Beauty, is the sole business of poetry," he wrote in "The Beauty of Things." The exhibit "Robinson Jeffers and the Ecologies of Poetry" will feature rare Jeffers artifacts, photos, and books, as well as works of other poets who have been influenced by Jeffers, water-themed artwork by Los de Abajo Printmaking Collective and exhibits on North Los Angeles ecology.

Through Jeffers' critical ups and downs -- his environmentalism and criticism of mankind hurt his popularity -- his connection to California remained constant. He helped to build his home, called Tor House (pictured) on the Monterey coast, learning from the contractor and later constructing the stone tower on his own. He died there in 1962, 48 years after first catching sight of its rocky promontory.

Many of Occidental's events celebrating the work of Robinson Jeffers are open to the public; here is the complete schedule.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo credit: Robinson Jeffers Tor House Foundation

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