California Arts Council

State of California

California teachers and teaching poets participate in Robinson Jeffers events, learn new practices for poetry instruction
The unique pilot project of The Big Read initiative from the National Endowment for the Arts helps teachers and poets from California's Poetry Out Loud program

Published: 11-05-2008

The California Arts Council participated in a unique event on the Central Coast in October, bringing California Poetry Out Loud teachers and teaching poets to a National Endowment for the Arts special Big Read event celebrating California poet Robinson Jeffers at Tor House, the National Steinbeck Center, and UC Santa Cruz.

Hundreds of artists, teachers, scholars and members of the general public participated in a series of events surrounding California literature, specifically the poetry of Robinson Jeffers. Also included were instructors in California's Poetry Out Loud program, the national poetry recitation contest and program for high school students fulfilled by the California Arts Council in the state. Full-time high-school teachers and Poetry Out Loud teaching poets from throughout the state came to partake in the program to learn more about Jeffers, the poetry of California, and discuss best practices on how to teach their high-school students in the 2008-09 school year through the Poetry Out Loud program.

"The events were amazing and extremely helpful for our full-time teachers and teaching artists," said Arts Council literature programs coordinator Kristin Margolis. "It was standing room only for many of the events, like when renowned California poets Adrienne Rich, Li-Young Lee, Mark Jarman, and Gary Young read Jeffers poetry as well as their own."

But the professional development opportunities went beyond the poetry events themselves. The Poetry Out Loud instructors were also able to network and discuss how they work in the classroom and engage their students in literature and reading. 

"The California Arts Council furthered teacher and teaching-artist training by having Poetry Out Loud instructors from throughout the state participate," said Margolis. "They can bring back to their schools and communities what they learned about Jeffers, poetry and recitation, and the best way to engage their students in literature and reading."

The Poetry Out Loud teachers and teaching poets who participated in the Jeffers Big Read program include: 

  • Joan Setka, teacher (Alameda County); 
  • Dr. Jean Bazemore, teacher (Humboldt County); 
  • Terri Glass, teaching poet (Marin County); 
  • Cathy Dahl Kunkel, teacher (San Luis Obispo); 
  • Philip Costea, teacher (Placer County); 
  • Desiree Hamill, teacher (Los Angeles County); 
  • Ellie Kuechler-Van Acker, teacher (Sacramento County); 
  • Kathy Haring, teacher (Sacramento County); 
  • Beth Taylor-Schott, teaching poet (Santa Barbara County); 
  • David Taylor-Schott, teaching poet (Santa Barbara County); 
  • Nicole Henares, teaching poet (San Francisco County); 
  • Andy Harris, teacher (Contra Costa County); 
  • Claire Blotter, teaching poet (Marin County), and 
  • Cathy Barber, teaching poet (San Francisco County). 

Also on hand were Erica Koss, Literature Specialist for the National Endowment for the Arts, and Stephen Young, Program Director for the Poetry Foundation.

More information about the Big Read--Robinson Jeffers event, California's Poetry Out Loud program, and Robinson Jeffers Tor House Foundation, the National Steinbeck Center, and the literature programs at UC Santa Cruz may be found on their respective websites. The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to restore reading to the center of American culture. Grant funding is available to nonprofits like libraries, arts centers and others to produce Big Read events in their communities, providing the opportunity for a local community to read and discuss a single book.

The Big Read initiative includes innovative reading programs in selected cities and towns, comprehensive resources for discussing classic literature, an ambitious national publicity campaign, and an extensive website providing comprehensive information on authors and their works. Approximately 400 organizations in communities of varying sizes across the country will be selected to participate in The Big Read from September 2009 through June 2010. Applications are due on February 3, 2009.

About Robinson Jeffers

Jeffers was born in 1887 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but is closely associated with the central coast area of California where he lived from 1914 until his death in 1962. He is associated with the California environmental movement, and has inspired two original and seminal California photographers: Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. 

The Big Read website noted that Ansel Adams was particularly inspired by Jeffers. "I am going to do my best to call attention to the simplicities of environment and method; to 'the enormous beauty of the world,'" said Adams, quoting Jeffers. 

Morley Baer, another important California photographer, said that when he was in college, "Jeffers helped me see and sense the coast of California as a place of great tensions, great natural tensions that are part of life and not to be subdued and eradicated."

The Robinson Jeffers event in California is the first of a series of Big Read events focusing on poetry. "In 2007, the National Endowment for the Arts partnered with the Poetry Foundation on a new component of The Big Read that celebrated the nation's historic poetry sites," notes the NEA website. "To date, two poets have been part of this pilot initiative: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Robinson Jeffers."  A Big Read event focusing on The Poetry of Emily Dickinson is planned for the spring of 2009.

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