Robinson Jeffers Poet and prophet

James Karman

Book - 2015

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BIOGRAPHY/Jeffers, Robinson
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Subjects
Published
Stanford, California : Stanford University Press [2015]
Language
English
Physical Description
xi, 245 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 227-230) and index.
ISBN
9780804789639
0804789630
Main Author
James Karman (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* A deliberate outlier from his generation of American poets, Robinson Jeffers (1887–1962) stood apart both literarily and literally. Influenced by Greek classical drama in particular, he told contemporary stories of mythic power in formally distinctive, straightforward narrative verse, whereas they wrote reflective and imagistic lyrics; and he lived in a stone house that he built on a cliff above the Pacific, seldom traveling, whereas they lived in cities and suburbs and were famously peripatetic. Whereas many of them embraced faiths and ideologies, he eschewed religion and politics, rejecting both as blindly and destructively anthropocentric and false. Unlike them, he virtually never wrote about poetry—he wrote poetry. His books were genuinely popular, quickly selling out first editions and remaining in print. Finally, his adaptations of Aeschylus and Euripides were prizewinning Broadway hits, equally successful in London and Europe. Rarely pointing up such contrasts with his peers, Karman discusses Jeffers' achievements in the context of his, his wife Una's, and their twin sons' isolated yet everyday, normal family life (they always took their few sojourns together). The other American poets Karman makes touchstones for Jeffers are Whitman and Dickinson—choices he makes seem most apt. This elegant review of a truly unique poet who has become a prophet of modern environmentalism belongs in all American literature collections. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

This "concise biography" identifies the people most important to Jeffers (1887–1962), notably his wife (Una), his father (William Hamilton), and his two sons (Garth and Donnan).  Karman (emer., English and religious studies, California State Univ., Chico) describes the fiercely beautiful locale in which the poet spent most of his life (the Monterey–Carmel–Big Sur coast of California) and reveals how momentous it was for Jeffers to build a granite house and tower on cliffs overlooking the sea.  Karman discusses each of the poet's major books—providing extended commentary on such titles as Roan Stallion, Tamar and Other Poems (1925), and The Double Axe and Other Poems (1948)—and celebrates the poet's diverse output: meditative lyrics, long narratives, verse dramas.  Karman also addresses issues that made Jeffers controversial: his obsession with lurid, often violent, stories; his denunciation of all nations involved in WW II, including the US; his profound misgivings about "the troublesome race of man"; his rejection of both religious faith and humanism in favor of "pantheistic mysticism."  Finally, Karman urges a reevaluation of this "anti-modern modernist," emphasizing the ways in which Jeffers anticipated today's ecological concerns.  Succinct, lucid, informative, evenhanded in its judgments, this is the best overview currently available of Jeffers's life and work. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and above; general readers. --D. D. Kummings, University of Wisconsin--Parkside Donald D. Kummings University of Wisconsin--Parkside http://dx.doi.org/10.5860/CHOICE.193936 Copyright 2014 American Library Association.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Robinson Jeffers (1887–1962) arguably never achieved the stature of his contemporaries Edna St. Vincent Millay, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, or William Carlos Williams, but he forged his own poetic path all the same. Jeffers scholar Karman, in this straightforward expansion of his introduction to The Collected Letters of Robinson Jeffers, recounts the poet's life and work. Karman matter-of-factly chronicles Jeffers's life from his childhood and education in Europe and his peripatetic college years to his adulterous affair with Una Kuster, whom he married in 1913 following her divorce from her first husband, after which the couple moved to Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif. Karman also gives close readings of Jeffers's poems, showing that their greatest theme was the relationship of Eros and Thanatos. While most of his contemporaries composed lyric poetry, Jeffers wrote narrative verse and drama, often recasting Greek tragedies such as Euripides' Medea in modern settings. Karman's analysis reveals a prophetic voice who often spoke of environmental destruction and overpopulation. While Jeffers warns that both religion and science are flawed, offering no salvation from human cruelty and inhumanity, he also shows that opening one's heart and mind to the larger world of nature can offer moments of enlightenment. Although Karman's colorless introduction lacks the vibrant energy of his subject's work, it could very well lead a reader to pick up Jeffers's poetry again or for the first time. (Aug.) [Page ]. Copyright 2015 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

The precipitous cliffs, rolling headlands, and rocky inlets of the California coast come alive in the poetry of John Robinson Jeffers, an icon of the environmental movement. In this concise and accessible biography, Jeffers scholar James Karman reveals deep insights into this passionate and complex figure and establishes Jeffers as a leading American poet of prophetic vision.In a move that would define his life's work, Jeffers' family relocated to California from Pennsylvania in 1903 when he was sixteen. While a graduate student at the University of Southern California he met Una Call Kuster, a student who was the wife of a prominent Los Angeles attorney, and they began a scandalous affair that made the front page of the Los Angeles Times. They eventually married and escaped to Carmel, California to write poetry; there they would spend the rest of their lives.At the height of his popularity in the 1920s and 1930s, Jeffers became one of the few poets ever featured on the cover of Time magazine, and posthumously put on a U.S. postage stamp. Writing by kerosene lamp in a granite tower that he had built himself, his vivid and descriptive poetry of the coast evoked the difficulty and beauty of the wild and inspired photographers such as Edward Weston and Ansel Adams. He was known for long narrative blank verse that shook up the national literary scene, but in the 1940s his interest in the Greek classics led to several adaptations which were staged on Broadway to great success.Inspiring later artists from Charles Bukowski to Czeslaw Milosz and even the Beach Boys, Robinson Jeffers' contribution to American letters is skillfully brought back out of the shadows of history in this compelling biography of a complex man of poetic genius who wrote so powerfully of the astonishing beauty of nature.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

The precipitous cliffs, rolling headlands, and rocky inlets of the California coast come alive in the poetry of John Robinson Jeffers, an icon of the environmental movement. In this concise and accessible biography, Jeffers scholar James Karman reveals deep insights into this passionate and complex figure and establishes Jeffers as a leading American poet of prophetic vision.In a move that would define his life's work, Jeffers' family relocated to California from Pennsylvania in 1903 when he was sixteen. While a graduate student at the University of Southern California he met Una Call Kuster, a student who was the wife of a prominent Los Angeles attorney, and they began a scandalous affair that made the front page of the Los Angeles Times. They eventually married and escaped to Carmel, California to write poetry; there they would spend the rest of their lives.At the height of his popularity in the 1920s and 1930s, Jeffers became one of the few poets ever featured on the cover of Time magazine, and posthumously put on a U.S. postage stamp. Writing by kerosene lamp in a granite tower that he had built himself, his vivid and descriptive poetry of the coast evoked the difficulty and beauty of the wild and inspired photographers such as Edward Weston and Ansel Adams. He was known for long narrative blank verse that shook up the national literary scene, but in the 1940s his interest in the Greek classics led to several adaptations which were staged on Broadway to great success.Inspiring later artists from Charles Bukowski to Czeslaw Milosz and even the Beach Boys, Robinson Jeffers' contribution to American letters is skillfully brought back out of the shadows of history in this compelling biography of a complex man of poetic genius who wrote so powerfully of the astonishing beauty of nature.