Thursday, November 10, 2011


Basho said, "Do not follow in the footsteps of the masters. Seek what they sought."

When Basho talks, I listen. As does another of my favorite poets, the late Olav H. Hauge.


Not by car,
not by plane--
by neither haysled
nor rickety cart
--or even by Elijah's fiery chariot!

You'll never get farther than Basho.
He got there by foot.

In October, my wife takes an annual business trip to Monterey. I tag along on this trip, treat it as an opportunity to walk in the literal footsteps of two artists I consider modern masters, artists who continue to have a profound effect on the way I write and think about writing.

The lives of these two artists became intertwined in the early years of the twentieth century, at what was then an artists colony in Carmel. And at the rock and cypress landscape of nearby Point Lobos.

Photographer Edward Weston captured the iconic, black & white images that define Point Lobos in most people's minds. Years (decades, I suppose) ago, I trudged the dry river beds of my hometown with a 4 x 5 view camera, mounted to a proportionately heavy tripod, on my shoulder, trying to figure out what it was he sought; to catch a glimpse of it on my camera's ground glass.

As art historian Nancy Newhall wrote, "Deliberately he stripped his technique, his living, and seeing of unessentials and tried to concentrate on the objective and eternal--only to find that he could not and would not be bound even by his own dogma. How could he tell what he would see on his ground glass tomorrow?"

Weston described it as a search "to present clearly my feeling for life with photographic beauty ... without subterfuge or evasion in spirit or technique."

This was true whether his subject was a lithic landscape, a still life of peppers brought home from the market, or the unretouched portraits of a woman singing or a man shooting. He also made portraits of his neighbor, the other modern master I'd come to the coast to acknowledge, poet Robinson Jeffers.

It's difficult to take a photograph of Jeffers' home, Tor House, without the modern mansions that have surrounded it encroaching in the frame. Beautiful homes, to be sure, but in such contrast to the rock structures Jeffers built by his own manual labor.

Reversing the angle, though, one still sees what Jeffers saw, as he described it in his poem, "Carmel Point."

Meanwhile the image of pristine beauty
Lives in the very grain of granite.
Safe as the endless ocean that climbs our cliff.

Tonight, I'm reading from my new chapbook of poems, Standing in the River, in Midtown Sacramento. Reflecting on Weston and Jeffers, I'm finding a sense of satisfaction and an artistic peace of mind in the fact that we share a common thought.

In the forward to his 1938 Selected Poems, Jeffers wrote that he'd come to the point where he was "writing verse that seemed to be--whether good or bad--at least in my own voice."