Robinson Jeffers-Rediscovering a Poet for our Tumultuous Times

On a recent visit to Carmel, California, we stopped to see the home of the poet Robinson Jeffers. Overlooking the Pacific, the home, a lovely cottage, is named Tor House. Tor meaning hill in the Irish language. Adjacent to Tor House is Hawk Tower, reminiscent of the Norman Towers found in Ireland. Una Jeffers, an Irish-American, loved all things Irish, and her husband, along with a handyman, built the tower themselves from local granite boulders that matched those used in the construction of the cottage.
Robinson Jeffers was a contemporary of Robert Frost, and both achieved wide recognition of their poetry. Jeffers was featured on the cover of Time Magazine in 1932. Yet today, we seem to remember Frost and his work rather than Jeffers, the latter somewhat relegated to obscurity.
But now reading some of Jeffers’ poetry, one finds startling relevance to our tumultuous political times. Here are excerpts from “Be Angry at the Sun,” written in the tumultuous year of 1941 and echoing the power of poetry in the context of the madness of mankind:
“That public men publish falsehoods
Is nothing new………..
Be angry at the sun for setting
If these things anger you………..
Observe them gesticulating,
Observe them going down. The gang serves lies, the passionate
Man plays his part; the cold passion for truth
Hunts in no pack”
Or read this passage from “Shine Perishing Republic” written in 1925:
“While this America settles in the of its vulgarity,
Heavily thickening to empire
And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops
And sighs out, and the mass hardens.”

My Forsyte Saga Class Begins October 5th

Most of us first became acquainted with The Forsyte Saga when it ran as a dramatic serial on Masterpiece Theater. The Saga was brilliantly written by the Nobel Prize-winning British author John Galsworthy, and it consists of three novels with two interludes. It chronicles the vicissitudes of the upper-middle class Forsyte family from Victorian 1886 through the aftermath of the First World War. I will be teaching a five session course at the Oakton Community College Emeritus program on the Saga, considered by many to be some of the best British fiction ever written, starting on Thursday, October 5 and concluding on Thursday, November 2. The class is from 10 to 11:30 in the morning. You may register by contacting Oakton by phone at 847-982-9888 or online at

City Lights Still Shines

As all literary enthusiasts must do when in San Francisco, we visited City Lights bookstore. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, at age 98, is still a co-owner, and lives a few blocks from the bookstore in a second-story walk-up in the North Beach neighborhood. The city even named a street after him.
Ferlinghetti established City Lights in the 1950s, because as he said in his inaugural speech as poet laureate of San Francisco in 1998 that he “saw North Beach especially as a poetic place, as poetic as some quarters in Paris, as any place great poets and painters had found inspiration.” And indeed poets and other writers flocked to that “poetic place”-Kerouac, Ginsberg, Corso, Burroughs, Cassady, and numerous others creating a movement in literature known as “Beat.”
City Lights remains a springboard for social activism in the Bay Area. As Ferlinghetti wrote in his “Challenges to Young Poets” in 2001 “Be committed to something outside yourself. Be militant about it. Or ecstatic”

Man Booker Shortlist Discussion at Glencoe Public Library

I hope that you will join me on Wednesday evening, September 27, at 7:30 at the Glencoe Public Library as I discuss the six novels that were selected for this year’s Man Booker Literary Prize Shortlist. The winner will be announced on October 17 at a ceremony in London. Here are the shortlisted novels:

4321 by Paul Auster
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
Exit West by Moshin Hamid
Elmet by Fiona Mozley
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Autumn by Ali Smith