Occidental College launched a month-long "Big Read" celebration of alumnus and "poet of the American West Coast" Robinson Jeffers on Oct. 1 with poetry readings, speeches, and the opening of a wide-ranging Jeffers exhibit.
The kick-off event at Occidental’s Mary Norton Clapp Library was the first in a series of events scheduled through Nov. 7 to celebrate "The Big Read: Jeffers and the Ecologies of Poetry." The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts.
The kick-off event featured outdoor readings and remarks by Occidental president Jonathan Veitch and Jeffers scholar and Cal State Long Beach English professor George Hart, and the unveiling of the Jeffers exhibit at the Clapp Library. The exhibit showcases a rare selection of Jeffers artifacts, photographs and manuscripts drawn from Occidental's own collection; prints by the local Los de Abajo Printmaking Collective; and exhibits on northeastern Los Angeles ecology.
Veitch said he was honored and humbled to be reading Jeffers' poetry "under these beautiful oaks" in the Occidental Quad. Veitch, who read the Jeffers' poem "Rock and Hawk," said Jeffers was one of the very first poets he read when he started to study poetry seriously, attracted by what he called Jeffers' "austere philosophy." Jeffers is a 1905 graduate of Occidental.
Another reader, exhibit designer Toni Petniunas, spoke of Jeffers' "fearless earnestness": "He spoke from the heart," she said.
The event supported a Big Read partner, the Wildlife WayStation, which was hit hard by the recent Station Fire in the Angeles National Forest. The Wildlife WayStation brought one of its rescued animals--a bobcat--to the event.
The Jeffers Big Read program is presented in partnership with some 15 local schools, public libraries and community organizations. Partners include the Wildlife Waystation, the Historical Society of Southern California, John Marshall High School, and the Friends of the L.A. River.
Events by Occidental and its partners are scheduled throughout October. For example, on Saturday, Oct. 3, Hart, a co-editor of the journal Jeffers Studies, will read Jeffers' poetry at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena. Later that day, local poets will read poetry by and in the spirit of Jeffers at the Eagle Rock branch of the Los Angeles Public Library.
On Saturday, Nov. 7, Occidental will wrap up the festivities with a special family day at the College from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The public is invited to poetry readings, exhibits, bird watching, and musical performances. Guests may also explore nature through the arts by joining a nature walk. All Jeffers events are free and open to the public.
As part of the Big Read program, Occidental English Writing Professor Tom Burkdall is posting Jeffers' poetry via Twitter, an online micro-blogging service. Follow @RobinsonJeffers to receive these daily "poem-tweets."
Occidental received a $20,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to launch its Big Read program. The College is also providing $20,000 in matching funds and in-kind contributions. The Big Read is an NEA initiative to restore reading to the center of American culture. It does so by collaborating with colleges and universities, K-12 schools, libraries and community groups nationwide to promote selected 19th- and 20th-century American fiction, poetry and writers.
The NEA presents The Big Read in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and in cooperation with Arts Midwest. Support for The Big Read is provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.