Patrick James Dunagan

Poems Floated From the Hearth: Lessons from the California Coast, Robinson Jeffers and the American Sublime, Kenneth Rexroth, and Poets of the San Francisco Renaissance

                               ...The shining ocean below lay on the shore
Like the great shield of the moon come down, rolling bright rim to rim with the earth. Against the multiform
And many-canyoned coast-range hills were gathered into one carven mountain, one
Eagle's cry made stone, stopping the strength of the sea. The beaked and winged
Felt the air foam under its throat and saw
The mountain sun-cup Tassajara, where fawns
Dance in the stream of the hot fountains at dawn,
Smoothed out, and the high strained ridges beyond Cachagua,
Where the rivers are born and the last condor is dead,
Flatten, and a hundred miles toward morning the Sierras
Dawn with their peaks of snow, and dwindle and smooth down
On the globed earth.

-                Robinson Jeffers

…Big Sur on the California coast, the locale Jeffers knew thoroughly and used repeatedly to body forth his misgivings about the human race

-                William Everson

I'm the ghost Roan Stallion

-                Lew Welch

Going Native

Talk of (California) poets

                Whalen, Snyder, Welch claim a piece of it

The only true poet of California is
Joanne Kyger

(William Everson might have known this
but I never got the chance to talk to him)

A   r   c   h   e   t   y   p   e      W   e   s   t

”There is science, logic, reason; there is thought verified by
experience. And then there is California.”
                                                             ― Edward Abbey

-                Kevin Opstedal

Accompanying publication of the latest volume of Jeffers’ Collected Letters, Stanford has also published Robert Zaller’s Robinson Jeffers and the American Sublime.* Zaller’s ever erudite study arrives clearly intended for committed readers and scholars of Jeffers—whose work requires significant commitment to begin to get grasp of beyond his half dozen or so shorter anthology pieces. When becoming a Jeffers fan it helps if you have a thing for the rocky California coast combined with at least a mild case of doldrums for humanity’s general future outlook: Jeffers gives you reason to take heart in bleak outcomes.

Zaller skillfully parses the somewhat heady details of Jeffers’ Inhumanism:
[It is] in essence a return to the unmediated Calvinist relation of person and deity, seen through the prism of twentieth-century cosmology rather than that of seventeenth century theology. Without the anchor of divinity, Jeffers believed, there was nothing to temper the world-devouring narcissism of the great Romantics, or to halt the slide of what Emerson called “the calamity of the masses” when that narcissism collapsed upon itself. If radical individualism was the burden of the American ego—and Jeffers, undeceived as Tocqueville had been by its surface amiability, never doubted that this was so—it could be borne, in his view, only by the opposition (not merely spectacle) of an infinitely greater power. Americans needed God more than anyone, but a God whose colossal disproportion and salutary indifference could humble, and, in Robert Frost’s term, “appall” them. That such a God could not be loved (and in that sense be acknowledged) by anyone other than Robinson Jeffers did not concern him any more than it would have concerned Jonathon Edwards. A God contained by human vision, defined by human interest, was not worth conception for either man.
Zaller accepts that it is admittedly difficult to place Jeffers’ work as much as his person within the regular categorizations of Modernism yet argues the reason for this is but a sign of the shortcomings of the period at large:
Jeffers’ art of the sublime engaged the most compelling issues of his time—issues that remain ours—with high seriousness and purpose. If in some respects his reinstatement of Romantic sublimity seemed a backward-looking enterprise, it was because modernity had abandoned the problematic it represented without resolving it.
Zaller’s study doesn’t seek to place Jeffers in the company of any peers other than himself. Jeffers stands alone at a long end of Western humanist thought, waging a solitary denouncement against humankind’s atrocities. But the appeal Jeffers makes towards “beauty” saves his poetry from being endless rants of a hermit crank and Zaller provides a useful gloss to understanding how Jeffers conceived of its function in his poems.
When Jeffers says in “De Rerum Virtute” that “it is hard to see beauty/In any of the acts of man”, he does not mean that there is no beauty in them, but only that it is of a mixed and compound nature that requires a distinctive mode of action, tragedy, to realize itself. We might, indeed, most briefly define tragedy in Jeffers as the human response to sublimity, and beauty as the category that encompasses both. If, then, the coast cries out for tragedy, what it calls for are human actors.
In Zaller’s reading Jeffers stands alone as the forward—even if final—flank of an American tradition based upon the merging of science, philosophy, and literature seeking a larger spiritual alignment of the individual, the natural world, and a higher order/meaning. Zaller points out the Christ-like figures abundant in the poems, along with Jeffers’ direct addresses to God, yet it is the portrayal and exploration of the relationship of humankind with the divine as manifested in the world of things (i.e. phenomena of the natural world) found throughout Jeffers which is likely to hold more interest for many readers.
That there is one power, you may call it God to the vulgar,
Exists from eternity into eternity, all the protean phenomena, all forms, all faces
          of things,
And all the negligible lightnings of consciousness,
Are made of that power . . . What did it matter? outside communication, nowise           adorable,
not touchable
But in the minute momentarily formed and dissolving fractions: rock . . . flesh . . .

(from "The Women at Point Sur")
It is this emphasis on the California landscape as the setting throughout Jeffers’ poetry which draws in any interested agnostic readers far more than the more overt Christian themes. Zaller emphasizes how fundamental the phenomenal world is to Jeffers’ poems:
For Jeffers, the phenomenal world was the ground of his art, and its depiction and praise the principal task of the poet. Every aspect of that world was equally imbued with value, and every element in it a direct manifestation of divinity. To describe the flight of a heron (or, for that matter, the feeding habits of a killer whale) was, therefore, to praise the deity and to perform an office of worship. This was in the highest sense a moral responsibility as well. It meant precise, almost clinical observation without any taint of repugnance or sentimentality—that is, without censure. It was, in short a sustained application of the scientific attitude, with the added prescription that the observation be not value-neutral but value-positive.
Jeffers’ belief in accountability for how one lives life is a constant force at work in his poems. Writing poetry provides Jeffers a medium of discovery towards recognizing elemental truths about human relations both with ourselves, each other, and forms of divine manifestation in the natural world. He continuously weighs and re-weighs the divinity apparent in the landscape surrounding him and humanity’s actions in the face of it. And at root his work rests upon a fundamental belief that it’s all meant to happen, the bad and the good, all is deserved. As Zaller states, “Jeffers, the residual Calvinist, did stand out from his Modernist peers […] if humanity was, indeed, to self-destruct, the sin and its deserts were on its head alone.” However for poets coming after Jeffers the attraction to reading his work arises increasingly from his emphasis on the phenomenal as manifested in and by the landscape upon which any “sin” of self-destruction is to be played out.

Zaller’s concern with “the American Sublime” remains primarily focused with relating Jeffers via a historical reading of the religious, scientific, and philosophical ideas which infuse his poetry. Zaller’s Sublime is a decidedly 19th century affair. He holds Jeffers apart from his Modernist peers and spends no time contextualizing his work in relation to poets coming after him who emerge, likelier than not, from a reading of Modernist peers such as Pound alongside Jeffers. Whitman and the Transcendentalists form the backdrop to the Sublime in which Zaller situates Jeffers in his utter solitariness. Yet it is the strikingly unique nature of Jeffers’ work, born of this very solitary perspective, which challenges and strikes inspiration in poets beyond Zaller’s reading.

There’s not a trace of the poetic lineage laid out in the above poem by Kevin Opstedal to be found in Zaller’s study. Likely it’s of little interest to him. He’s not heavily concerned with Jeffers’ influence upon contemporary poetry being written, and much less is he going to be interested in contributing to any possible further pigeon-holing of Jeffers as solely a poet of California. Any regional reading of Jeffers goes against Zaller’s larger scheme which seeks place Jeffers within the broad swath of Western humanism. And yet for readers of today, especially younger poets, Jeffers is sure to be found much more relevant when placed within such lineage of distinctly Californian poets. What follows then is a brief historical overview of some examples in which the poets Opstedal cites are found influenced by Jeffers and also the tale of how poet Kenneth Rexroth wished it wasn’t so.

All the poets Opstedal mentions, except for Bukowski, began coalescing as a group in the San Francisco Bay Area during the 1940s and 50s, now commonly referred to as the San Francisco Renaissance which has many ties with the Beat Generation. Residing in and around San Francisco this group reflected the result of a larger trend in the country which Zaller recognizes:
At the beginning of the twentieth century, more than half the American population still worked the land; by the century’s end, that number had been reduced to three per cent. The continent that had been so assiduously settled as America expanded westward had now, in an extraordinary reversal, been emptied out and crowded into urban and suburban preserves. What the settler population had done to Native Americans, confining them to arid enclaves, they had now done to themselves.
Poets of the San Francisco Renaissance were well aware of the impact these changes had upon American society and lived lives often at the fringes of respectability throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s when their work contributed to the counter-cultural movements of the day. They embraced the advantages and excitements of city living while also remaining engaged with exploring the land itself beyond the city’s edge. These poets were as wary as Jeffers of the society’s possibly bleak future. A desultory possibility Jeffers often envisioned, as in these lines from his poem the "Day After Tomorrow":
Mourning the broken balance, the hopeless prostration of the earth
Under men's hands and their minds,
The spreading fungus, the slime-threads
And spores; my own coast's obscene future: I remember the farther
Future, and the last man dying
Without succession under the confident eyes of the stars.
It was only a moment's accident,
The race that plagued us; the world resumes the old lonely immortal
The work of Jeffers serves as a dynamic example of poetry celebrating the beauty of California’s landscape—even in the face of the “coast’s obscene future”—along with a rigorous criticism of humanity’s behavior in the face of it. And where Zaller points out Jeffers’ criticism of how “the paradoxical nature of democratic governance” is inescapable:
Where all are free, freedom may deny itself. A demographic citizenry can maintain its character only if each person maintains his or her individual independence, a condition to which modern urban life, with its economic dependency and bureaucratic control, is fundamentally inimical. “You did not say ‘en masse,’ Jeffers apostrophizes his countrymen, “you said ‘independence’.” Massification—Jeffers’ choice of terms is, as usual, tellingly precise—is the condition toward which modern man tends. This is a condition toward which all think and feel alike; that is, do not think and do not feel.
The poets of the San Francisco Renaissance actively resisted such condition and sought with their work to shake up the general society’s complacency in relation to it.

An attempt to marginalize recognition of Jeffers’s influence upon these poets began early on and arose from within. Poet Kenneth Rexroth as both elder and somewhat father-figure, testily presiding over this group during its formational years and thereafter, did not shy away from an open combativeness when vying for his own predominance to be noted over and against that of Jeffers. Rexroth’s 1957 review of Radcliffe Squire’s The Loyalties of Robinson Jeffers, titled “In Defense of Jeffers,” displays a willfully feigned ignorance of any avid interest in Jeffers among young poets he knows. An interest he seeks to downplay as he also attempts bully younger poets against holding to it. Rexroth not only disparages the work, “Jeffers’s verse is shoddy and pretentious and the philosophizing is nothing but posturing” but also hazards the observation, “the stock of Robinson Jeffers has fallen; for an entire literary generation it might be said to have plummeted and still be plummeting” continuing on quite pigheadedly “few young poets of my acquaintance, and I know most of them, have ever opened one of his books, and know only the anthology pieces, which, I am afraid, they dislike.” In The Selected Letters of Robinson Jeffers, when writing to Radcliffe Squires who had forwarded him Rexroth’s review, Jeffers showed little interest in Rexroth’s “silly article” which “is not disturbing but merely obvious”.

The fact is, after all, that the work of Jeffers was held in regard by several poets of the San Francisco Renaissance. These poets not only share with Jeffers an intrinsic focus upon the geographical region of the California coast as place that’s particularly noteworthy; their poetry also seeks join with Jeffers’ own in peeling back the impediments society glosses over the experiences of individuals with each other and the natural world about them. Zaller notes “Jeffers includes in [a] catalogue of beauty the natural elements, but also ‘Beast, man and woman,’ and ‘The blood-shot beauty of human nature.’ No object is too small to be praised and none too large; none too faulty or too flawed.” and such recognition came to these poets within their own experiences, to be reflected in their writing as they picked up where Jeffers veered off.

Although Rexroth attempted dislodge the notion of Jeffers as precursor, his efforts were destined to come to naught. At the time Rexroth came to prominence as a leader of the San Francisco Renaissance scene in the 1950s, the general impression at large of Jeffers as the recognized poet of California was inescapable. Linda Hamalian observes in her biography A Life of Kenneth Rexroth: during the 1930s “Robinson Jeffers was the sole West Coast poet with a national reputation, an isolated case, both in terms of his reputation and his relationship to the potential literary community.” It was clear to his fellow poets that even Rexroth himself owed a debt to Jeffers, as poet Robert Duncan teasingly muses in an interview with Hamalian, “I always wondered to what extent Kenneth owed quite a bit to Jeffers, despite his rage against Jeffers. Technically the fineness of Kenneth’s passages on the California landscape are very close to Jeffers, as William Everson has said.” Rexroth, however, wasn’t comfortable acknowledging his debt to the closest of influences. Ezra Pound was another poet, as with Jeffers, Rexroth proved unable to own up to owing a debt to. Duncan, again, “It was easy for Kenneth to blow up at Pound’s fascism and obscure how much of his work came out of the Cantos, just like he blew up at Jeffers’s nihilism and inhumanity or whatever and obscured that influence.”

William Everson, author of the essential regional literary study Archetype West, is one important younger acquaintance of Rexroth’s whom he well knows at the time he writes "In Defense of Jeffers" had in fact read Jeffers and been deeply, irrevocably struck by a lasting influence. Everson himself speaks often in interviews of the abiding influence reading Jeffers had upon his own work and wrote a memorial poem for Jeffers, not to mention two critical appreciations. Nonetheless in the same year as Rexroth writes his review on Jeffers, he publishes his “San Francisco Letter” in The Evergreen Review wherein he takes Everson to task for being too influenced by Jeffers and yet claims Everson has overcome the negative influence.
Like so many young poets he [Everson] was naively accessible to influences his maturity would find dubious. In his case this was Jeffers, but he was, even then, able to transform Jeffers’ noisy rhetoric into genuinely impassioned utterance, his absurd self-dramatization into real struggle in the depths of the self.
Here again Rexroth’s virulent in denouncing Jeffers: "noisy rhetoric" and "absurd self-dramatization." It’s quite ironic that critical readers of Rexroth would likely find similar fault in his own work, with perhaps a more subdued flourish of style.

Rexroth's veracity of attack against Jeffers reflects in part his discomfort with being caught in a somewhat father-role to the younger poets as much as it does his desire to hold them, Everson especially, under his dominion without any beneficial debt to Jeffers. No one felt the sting of Rexroth's wrath as sharply as Everson when it came to owing a debt to Jeffers. Rexroth’s "San Francisco Letter", as Everson’s biographer Lee Bartlett summarizes, “works ingeniously… to discount Everson’s derivation from Robison Jeffers,” conclusively declaring: “Everson is still wrestling with his angel, still given to the long oratorical line with vague echoes of classical quantitative meters, but there is no apparent resemblance left to Jeffers.” Bartlett continues, “Rexroth was, finally, the presiding figure, taking on for a time at least the role of both father and mentor.” and Duncan describes how Rexroth “was the person who discovered Everson,” however “Kenneth did not fit very well with the image of a father figure.” Although Rexroth wasn't well-suited to serve the role of an elder, Everson nevertheless found himself under Rexroth's wing whether he liked it or not.

Bartlett notes, "When Everson arrived in the Bay Area after demobilization, there was a flourishing literary culture, presided over by Rexroth in San Francisco, Robert Duncan in Berkeley." He continues, citing Everson's own words from an interview, “In San Francisco Rexroth was our group’s paterfamilias, but on the Berkeley side Duncan was its energy." And in an interview with Linda Hamalian concerning Rexroth, Robert Duncan recalls that “it was a little hard for Kenneth to share the town with other members of his own generation.” Rexroth wasn't untroubled by Duncan's own presence, but Duncan was just younger enough and with less of a nationally published presence during the period for Rexroth to feel comfortable with his being the “energy” while Rexroth organized and directed its flow; yet there's no doubting Rexroth's desire to be at the center of the literary circle. Duncan attests that Rexroth "dreamed about a San Francisco Renaissance" while significantly noting: "And Bill Everson was there.”

As Hamalian comments, poets of the San Francisco Renaissance “wanted the West Coast landscape to play a more vital role in their work than it had in the poetry of the previous generations, with the exception of Robinson Jeffers.” Poet Gary Snyder’s embrace of the California landscape proves his work easily influenced by Jeffers, as an abundance of critical commentary attests. Jeffers’ work corresponds to Snyder’s own predilections, providing a touchstone with which his work identifies even as he discovers and shapes his refusal to it. Snyder's parting with Jeffers comes on epistemological grounds, as Patrick D. Murphy argues in “Robinson Jeffers, Gary Snyder, and the Problem of Civilization”, “While [Snyder] continued to share Jeffers’s critique of the problem of Western Civilization, he did not remain trapped in the Western metaphysics that led Jeffers to see tragedy as the most noble subject of poetry, and to view decline as the only characteristic of human cultural behavior in this century.”

Snyder seeks to utilize the critique implicit in Jeffers while not condemning human endeavor and a possible future of promise. Murphy cites lines from Snyder’s poem “T-2 Tank Blues” as evidence of the calling Snyder's work follows instead, as reverses Jeffers’ Inhumanist stance “I will not cry Inhuman & think that makes us small and nature / great, we are enough, and as we are.”. Murphy also notes that in this poem, Snyder mentions “inhuman” five times. Yet for Snyder, the inhuman is transformed into a category that does not incorporate disdain for whatever failures humanity has made, but rather opens opportunities for valuable lessons to be learned and applied to further living: as Murphy notes in this poem, Snyder “toward the end praises the beauty of ‘inhuman man.’” Snyder's poem positions any such "inhuman" attributes of phenomena in the natural world as life-affirming against the skepticism of Jeffers.

Snyder distinguishes himself from the influence of Jeffers without overtly and aggressively attacking it. And unlike with Everson, Rexroth doesn’t publicly berate Snyder in regards to his debt to Jeffers. This is likely in part because the line of influence from Rexroth to Snyder is much less obstructed. Duncan points out, “the person who is straight-line Rexroth is Gary Snyder. He had the same bookshelf. Both thought that Arthur Whaley was a prime Chinese translator. Philip Whalen is more a mixed thing, but Snyder is straight-line Rexroth.” And as Jeffers scholar George Hart points out in “‘Seeing Rock for the First Time’: Varieties of Geological Experience in Jeffers, Rexroth, and Snyder”: “Although there is no Jeffers tradition per se, both [Gary] Snyder and Kenneth Rexroth exhibit a sacramental impulse that manifests in other versions of geological experience, albeit in reduced and adapted tropes.” In Snyder’s case, as with Everson, Jeffers may not hold as primary an influence as Rexroth in shaping the metrics of his verse itself, however Jeffers does exert a pivotal force upon the direction and focus Snyder’s work takes, even if it’s in spite of Jeffers’ Inhumanism.

Hart comments on how, “Robinson Jeffers made geological process, ‘the mineral cycles’ in Snyder’s terms, into one of the profoundest expressions of his pantheism. He developed various strategies for incorporating rocks and stones into his religious view of nature.” Extending Hart’s argument to include Snyder’s fellow poet Lew Welch it may be seen how Welch enlarges upon Snyder’s pantheistic belief in these cycles, Welch’s own work expressing a deep bond with Jeffers. As in "'Journal of a strategic withdrawal': nature and the poetry of Lew Welch" critic Rod Phillips instructively compares Welch's poem "Song of the Turkey Buzzard" to Jeffers's poem "Vulture" noting how for both poets "death is a part of life" and how Jeffers' lines "What a sublime end of one's body, what an enskyment: What a life after death." capsulizes what for Welch is assuredly the highest end of living: celebrating the natural cycles of life and death, which are evident all around in the abrupt changes found in California's landscape.
Welch extends this fantasy of "enskyment" and demands it as his own final reality. Where Jeffers views being consumed by a vulture as the "sublime end of one's body," a reworking of the traditional Christian afterlife, Welch sees the experience not as a "sublime end," but as a natural "continuance": "The very opposite of /death/ Bird of re-birth/ Buzzard/meat is rotten meat / made sweet again…"
Welch pursues key aspects of views held by Jeffers towards the relationship of humanity and nature. With “One Temper with Granite: The Troubling Achievement of Robin Jeffers’s Ecological Lyric” Jeffers scholar Temple Cone terms this focus on landscape as “geologic sublime” (borrowing from an earlier Jeffers critic: Glaser—And which finds echo in Zaller’s “American Sublime”): “the ‘geologic sublime’— setting the individual and all human history in a context of geologic time” which Cone sees as lacking in Jeffers studies: “the significance of the geologic sublime as an environmental device in Jeffers’s work remains unexamined.” This practice of Jeffers, whereby he gives a reading of the rock, as it were, runs throughout his work. These lines from “Cawdor” offer a taste of the attitude of his approach:
                              ... The strained peace
Of the rock has no repose, it is wild and shuddering, it travels
In the teeth of locked strains unimaginable paths;
It is full of desire; but the brittle iniquities of pleasure
And pain are not there.
On July 28, 1980, at what is now Naropa University, poet Philip Whalen, friend of both Snyder and Welch, delivered a lecture on Welch’s poem “Springtime in the Rockies, Lichen.” His exquisite reading of the poem crystallizes an example where Welch's poetry practice evidences clear traits of the "geologic sublime" as seen by Cone within the work of Jeffers. Whalen spends time at the beginning of his lecture describing what sort of man Welch was and demonstrates the traits displayed in him as poet in line with Jeffers, capable of appreciating the “strained peace” of rock, void of “the brittle iniquities of pleasure / And pain”.
If you live outdoors enough and stay alone enough and walk around enough, you tune in on landscape and it becomes important to you; and you like places, you like the way things go together. When Lewie wasn't too distracted with dope and alcohol and problems of all kinds about money, he always enjoyed himself out of doors and spent a lot of time out of doors. He was always making wonderful commonplace discoveries that made it possible for him to write poems…
The landscape becomes “commonplace” and is the poet’s lab. Observation is key: Whalen offers the astute comment on Welch's lines "on rock on sun, a little moisture, air, / tiny acid-factories, dissolving / salt from living rocks / and eating them" that "Lew is talking about the rocks being alive, being devoured just like animals eat each other. So it's a life process, it's not simply a chemical process, it's life going on." Whalen describes this poem as one instance of Welch being "really turned on, really excited, and so he's looking, looking to see out there and always, because he doesn't understand himself too well, looking for himself."

The lichen are representative for Welch of his belief that any threat to the earth from acts, i.e. "poisons," of humanity pales in comparison to such sublimity: in the end, Nature shall triumph—or at least survive. Whalen carefully reads aloud Welch's lines, "How can the poisons reach them? / In such thin air, how can they care for the / loss of a million breaths? / What, possibly, could make their ground more bare?" and extrapolates: "of course it's talking about the air that's killing us all; the lichens are likely to survive is what he's saying, I suppose. How can the poisons reach them? They'll just turn them into more lichens, likely, something we're not able to do ourselves." Whalen knows that Welch, as Jeffers, deeply embeds within his poems awareness of the natural orders of existence as far greater in strength and character than any threat humanity may wield.

Whalen sums up:
The idea of destruction and renewal of the universe is an ancient religious notion we still are stuck with to a certain degree. It means more or less to anybody. Just at this point, please remember all the roaring I was doing about how things are alive and people ought to realize it and take care of them, and not think of ourselves as masters of all we survey or as controllers of this dead matter we can push around any way we want to. The rocks are alive; everything is alive. The final envelope, the last message, is please turn around and don't drop those things. Although something will survive, it ain't going to be you. It might be these lichen, which are very nice things and are going to make a new start, probably, after you're gone.
Welch’s poem suffers no worry about any sudden loss of the presence of humans upon the earth. Yet Whalen points out that there’s life occurring upon this inhuman landscape that’s beyond any of human means of complete understanding. There’s still the possibility for discovering it and living according to a different mentality of relation. Whalen thus expresses a view that aligns with one glimmer of hope Zaller finds in Jeffers who he argues:
…suggests the practical course for his own protest. If empire’s busy agents can act, so too can his children, founding themselves neither on the corrupted industrial present nor the unrecapturable agrarian past, but on the “mountains,” the ground of landscape itself and hence of access to the sublime.
Future generations hold the possibility of turning the tide by listening to the mountains. Getting away from the turmoil of cities and society, as Welch says in his “Chicago Poem”:
All things considered, it's a gentle and undemanding
               planet, even here. Far gentler
Here than any of a dozen other places. The trouble is
               always and only with what we build on top of it.

There's nobody else to blame. You can't fix it and you
               can't make it go away. It does no good appealing
               To some ill-invented Thunderer
Brooding above some unimaginable crag . . .

It's ours. Right down to the last small hinge it
               all depends for its existence
Only and utterly upon our sufferance.

Driving back I saw Chicago rising in its gases and I
               knew again that never will the
Man be made to stand against this pitiless, unparalleled
               monstrocity. It
Snuffles on the beach of its Great Lake like a
               blind, red, rhinoceros.
It's already running us down.

You can't fix it. You can't make it go away.
               I don't know what you're going to do about it,
But I know what I'm going to do about it. I'm just
               going to walk away from it. Maybe
A small part of it will die if I'm not around

feeding it anymore.
With poems such as this one following in a lineage of Jeffers we as readers are offered the opportunity to become aware of our surroundings and the complicity with which we witness the reality of our lives. The withdrawal Welch’s poem calls for is within our means. And as Zaller notes, discussing what withdrawal from society might mean, “Withdrawal does not mean disinterest; indeed, it can strengthen, to the point of agony, the sense of the human predicament.” A possibility British poet J.H. Prynne's summation in his recent critical survey "Huts" hits directly upon:
As readers we do know, finally, that ruin and part-ruin lie about us on all sides, and so do the poets. It is needful and also better, finally, that this be most fully known. The poets are how we know this, are how we may dwell not somewhere else but where we are.
As Welch’s poem “He Thanks His Woodpile” recognizes:
"Shack Simple"

crazy as Han Shan as
Wittgenstein in his German hut, as
all the others ever were and are

               Ancient Order of the Fire Gigglers

who walked away from it, finally,
kicked the habit, finally, of Self, of
man-hooked Man

               (which is not, at last, estrangement)
The lineage laid out by Opstedal omits one familiar name of the San Francisco Renaissance who doesn’t quite share in any optimism of withdrawal. It’s difficult to imagine poet Jack Spicer having any of Snyder’s gruff over Jeffers’s Inhumanist philosophy. Spicer didn’t often get overly chummy outside of his own tight knit North Beach group. Welch recalls in an interview with David Meltzer that Spicer, like jazz musician Charles Parker, was “hell bent on self-destruction” but otherwise doesn’t mention him in letters or poems and, likewise, there’s not a word on Welch in Spicer’s biography. But the attraction to Jeffers via the California landscape does show up in Spicer’s poems. In “Jack Spicer and the Practice of Reading” Spicer scholar Peter Gizzi expounds upon how both the form and setting of Spicer’s poems embraces the influence of Jeffers’ work. For Spicer, as Gizzi delineates, not only is Jeffers “a real California poet” but, much like Jeffers, Spicer “writes an inhuman landscape of real cliff faces, surf, seagulls, and an ocean that is ‘tougher than anything.’” The line and narrative structure of Jeffers’ mature work of the 1950s are also comparable to Spicer’s, particularly in The Holy Grail—Spicer’s most California poem. Formally it resembles Jeffers’s serial compositions and verse novels, and Spicer even wrote in a letter to poet Charles Olson that his serial poems should be read "novelistically."

Gizzi also notes “the only other landscape [Jeffers] writes about in his enormous opus other than California is Grail territory” and remarks how “Jeffers even goes so far as to take on Grail-period architecture, building and living most of his life in a stone 'tor' on the California coast.” In addition, Gizzi offers a convincing correspondence between lines from Spicer’s poetry and Jeffers’s poem, “Quia Absurdum,” culminating in his statements that “Jeffers’s poem in fact looks and sounds very much like one of Spicer’s own poems” and “clearly Jeffers is part of Spicer’s own Grail landscape.” Spicer's The Holy Grail perhaps more than any other single work of his reflects and renovates Jeffers’ Inhumanist landscape continuing key elements of his poetic enterprise into the work of later generations.

Beyond the evidence provided by Gizzi’s critical insights, Kevin Killian’s biography of Spicer Poet Be Like God tells how Spicer did in fact propose editing an anthology of California poetry with fellow poet Robin Blaser featuring work by Jeffers and also utilized Jeffers’s poems “Skunks” and “Local Legend” as well-executed examples in his now infamous Poetry as Magic Workshop which he conducted in the San Francisco Public Library on behalf of the San Francisco Poetry Center. Spicer is infamous as well for arguing his poetry books, published in his lifetime exclusively by small presses in the San Francisco Bay Area, should never reach readers living beyond the immediate vicinity in which he composed them. In this, Spicer rigidly holds his work to a regional California focus that is—with somewhat less exclusivity—shared by Jeffers.

The importance the California landscape provides as a visual stimulus to all these poets cannot be over-emphasized. As Zaller quotes Jeffers from the Foreword to his Selected Poems:
A...piece of pure accident brought us to the Monterey coast mountains, where for the first time I could see people living---amid magnificent unspoiled scenery--- essentially as they did in the Idylls or the Sagas, or in Homer's Ithaca. Here was life purged of its ephemeral accretions. Men were riding after cattle, or plowing the headland, hovered by white sea-gulls, as they have done for thousands of years, and will for thousands of years to come. Here was contemporary life that was also permanent life; and not shut from the modern world but conscious of it and related to it; capable of expressing its spirit but unencumbered by the mass of poetically irrelevant details and complexities that make a civilization.
Zaller comments that the passage is "highly suggestive" as
Jeffers does not describe the California coast as virgin or desolate, but pastoral. He screens it through literary references, but although the references are heroic, the images are idyllic. Instead of appropriating the coast to Romantic or transcendental sublime, he annexes it to history, or more properly saga--- contemporary life that is also 'permanent' life.
Zaller goes on to state he believes this to be
…not merely a reinstatement of Jeffers' first impression of the central California coast but also as a strategic idealization, a means of suggesting the proper human relation to landscape. In any case, the pastoral image remained important to him, not merely as an antidote to civilized excess but also as a ballast to the sublime.
Coming after Jeffers, later poets alter and adapt his utilization of the extreme serenity found in this landscape, directing their own writing towards a broadening out of his groundwork.

As for the other poets Opstedal mentions, Joanne Kyger and Charles Bukowski, the L.A. bard has at least one poem, “Jeffers”, which is a direct commentary upon the older poet’s work work which clearly delineates an argument in favor of broadening out the strengths to be found in Jeffers for future poets. Bukowski’s tribute makes it clear he had a soft spot for Jeffers’ Inhumanist message even if aware it had limited appeal.
he would never be a popular
creator: people need to be
not notified of ancient
still true for our
Bukowski’s admiration for Jeffers hinges upon that celebration of beauty confronted with the fact of life and death, suffering the discovery which lies at the center of the poetic act.
Jeffers knew about hell and
about the secret of
hell: it could be now
or it could be

but hell or no
he positioned the
moment—accepted that swoop of
eternal pain, the way we go
curiously on
within this
And in an interview entitled "Congratulatory Poetics" Kyger significantly offers perhaps a way around or at least an approach to getting through “this/horrible/fix” retracting the typical approach of thinkers trained in the Western humanist tradition when interacting with inhuman phenomena which populate the natural world. While her perspective observation is certain anathema to Zaller’s Sublime it is nonetheless likely essential for readers of tomorrow, along with being one with which they may no doubt self-identify. Sitting outside her house in Bolinas on a plateau overlooking the Pacific just north of San Francisco she's perfectly situated as one of the liveliest poets of the current day to broach the bubbled perimeter of the Occidental tradition which Jeffers never broke through.
…One thing I realized teaching at Naropa Institute this summer, as the class was reading Jaime de Angulo, was that I was really trying to get people over to this space where they have some animal-spirit connection. To realize that the tree is in a simultaneous breath with ourselves, and it's not a difference of consciousness. The tree is talking directly to me, rather than the tree is a likeness like some other metaphorical likeness. Some of the students really had "Bambi" identifications and I wanted to suggest a more warmed-up feeling, past some objective sense of nature, swooshing into it, allowing the fox to have a personality, responding to tree speech with human speech as one continuity.

Question: Which western schooling calls "anthropomorphism, projection, sympathetic magic, pathetic fallacy", etc

Kyger: Fuck that, man. You see the little bamboo grove over there? Now watch, when I breathe, I'm going to breathe over in it and congratulate it. Hmmm, I want you to feel good bamboo. And that's all right you'll feel good. We'll listen to you for awhile, bamboo.
Principles of Kyger's poetic practice as demonstrated above reach into and well beyond any representational appropriation of the dramatic California landscape. She speaks towards an as yet undefined understanding of our place as humans among the inhuman; challenging existing priorities placed upon ourselves over and beyond the interests of any inhuman others our society has only yet began to accept and appreciate as far more than our equals.

Poets of the San Francisco Renaissance committed themselves to a relentless exploration and adapting of a poetics of California representing in part a careful, well measured, continuing response to Jeffers. The strain of Jeffers evident in the work of these poets expands upon a regional/ecological awareness and provides significant contribution to Jeffers Studies as his influence continues reverberate in the century ahead. Consideration of Jeffers and poets of the San Francisco Renaissance as a whole further challenges any human-centric view of civilization's role in relation to the planet's ongoing development for exploitation: offering a challenging poetics to the 21st century with the lasting influence of Robinson Jeffers situated at its roots.

*Robinson Jeffers and the American Sublime
By Robert Zaller
Stanford University Press 2012
ISBN 978-0-8047-7563-2

A graduate of the Poetics program at New College of California, Patrick James Dunagan lives in San Francisco and works at Gleeson library for the University of San Francisco. His poetry and/or criticism appears in places such as 1913 A journal of forms, Amerarcana, American Book Review, Bookslut, c_L Newsletter, The Critical Flame, Galatea Resurrects, Greetings, House Organ, Htmlgiant, LifeandDeathof AmericanCities, Lightning'd Press house mag, NewPages, Rain Taxi, Shampoo, Switchback, Wild Orchids, and the Volta. His most recent books are A GUSTONBOOK (Post Apollo 2011) and das Gedichtete (Ugly Duckling 2013).
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