The Women at Point Sur

In 1974 the publisher W.W. Norton acquired the rights to the Liveright imprint.  I was then in my final year of graduate school and mentioned this to R. H. Elias, the distinguished Dreiser scholar.  I didn’t realize that he and George Brockway, the President of Norton, were friends from their prep school years.  [Sidebar: this connection is how M.H. Abrams came to edit The Norton Anthology of English Literature.]  A letter of introduction here and bus ride to New York City there, and I ended up sitting in Mr. Brockway’s office proposing that Norton use the revived Liveright imprint to reissue Jeffers’ out of print collections.

Roan Stallion, Tamar and Other Poems would have been a first choice, but the 1935 Modern Library edition meant that Random House still controlled rights to it.  Similarly the New Directions paperback volume that paired Cawdor and Medea meant that Cawdor and Other Poems was not an option.

We settled on The Women at Point Sur, Dear Judas and Other Poems (to be edited by Bob Brophy), and The Double Axe (to be edited by Bill Everson, who enlisted Bill Hotchkiss as a co-editor).  The three volumes appeared in 1977, sold well enough to remain in print for a number of years, but not well enough for Liveright/Norton to extend the series (as we’d planned and I hoped).

In researching the edition, I discovered that Jeffers originally planned to include several short poems that would have followed the long title narrative, and these were added.  The proofs for the original 1927 Liveright edition also revealed that several phrases and images had been altered so that they were less sexual and less likely to provoke censorship.  The edition includes a note discussing the addition of the short poems and the altered phrases.  The text for Point Sur in this edition is largely that of the original 1927 edition.  The text for Point Sur in The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, instead, draws on Jeffers’ handwritten manuscript to correct the poem’s punctuation which was, it later became evident, adjusted by the typesetters without the poet’s awareness.  For close analysis of the poem (and for a fuller appreciation of Jeffers’ handling of rhythm and pacing), the text in The Collected Poetry is the better option.

The Afterword to the Norton/Liveright reissue derives from a paper I wrote for R.H. Elias in the graduate seminar he offered on Jeffers and Melvin B. Tolson.  It is occasionally cited, and over the years, and several people have mentioned finding it useful, and I’m glad that it has, it seems, some value.  It is, though, the work of a very young, if earnest, student, and is probably best understood as a possible starting point rather than a comprehensive account of what is a very complex and demanding work.