“RJ in California” and a bit of a poetry lesson to boot

by jdavidcharles

I think all poetry should speak for itself; however, sometimes we find uncanny poems or poems that take up a foreign world with them, whether that be historical (classic or epic poetry), pseudo-mythic (Blake), literally foreign (haiku, Baudelaire, etc), or simply embedded in a poetic tradition we are unfamiliar with. So, in the hopes that people we use this poem as a starting point to learn more (and in the process learn more about the poem) I thought I’d share a little of its historical roots and what I was thinking.

Famed Beat poet Allen Ginsberg wrote a fabulous little pseudo-ode to Walt Whitman entitled A Supermarket in California (read here or listen to him read it here). This poem is one of my favorites, contrasting Whitman’s pseudo-prophetic conceptions of America in Leaves of Grass with the America of the late 50s. Following this poem as a sort of poetic guideline, I decided to wright a similar ode to another one of my favorite poets (another Californian nonetheless) Robinson Jeffers, contrasting his depressing and isolationist depiction of 50s and 60s America with recent times. The poem, hopefully, takes an ironic (in the classical sense) approach to America, as did Jeffers–portraying ways in which the America of today is exactly what Jeffers predicted and yet not at all what he predicted. I suppose that’s the irony of prophecy, you first have to believe it prophecy before you can see it fulfilled. Anyhow, I was thinking of Jeffers’ later poems like The Continent’s End, the conclusion of my poem referring directly to his. Enough dilly-dally–hope you enjoy!


RJ in California


poor Jeffers, grown old and

dying in Carmel, late 1950’s,

a wife and daughter buried

among the first Tor stones,


a clean shaven, sharp jaw,

pale eyes that never say anything

nice about anyone, brow wrinkled

by the America of post-WWII


apocalyptic decadence:

John, if I could play the part

of Ginsberg and go with

you now down half dim


lit streets, past the bright

and silver hybrids and side-

walked sycamores to the corner

supermarket, walk with you


down aisles of produce,

vegan mayonnaise and

tofurky corn dogs, chatting

of Parmenides and avocado


and the oh so many undone

by death since your simpler

days of political genocide, villains

in black boots and mustaches;


would we waltz down aisles

of vine-ripened just-in-season

heirloom tomatoes, hand in

hand on such a late and lonely


night? would we drink from

recycled bottles of a worker

run factory past the scores of

clustered yellow cyclists and


middle-aged joggers toward

the tides at Carmel Bay? would

we look back on the bay as we

scale the steps at Hawk Tower,


seeing Charon polling no ferry

along Carmel State Beach, but

casually ticketing the parked cars

and putting out beach fires?