Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Searching for Speculative Poetry in Steinbeck Country

I admit, I must have skimmed this chapter in Cannery Row. 

I recently had a chance to take a tour up to Steinbeck Country, visiting Monterey and Carmel By the Sea to look for speculative poets in the region. Our members list for the Science Fiction Poetry Association didn't show any active members in the area, but that didn't mean there weren't places of interest for us.

Monterey is of course famous for figuring in several of John Steinbeck's writings, but also apparently has connections to Dennis the Menace creator Hank Ketchum. There is a quaint children's park that features a bronze statue of his most famous creation. Not dog-friendly, however, which seems a pity, but it's not like he was the creator of Marmaduke or Snoopy.

Of course, other famous writers connected to Monterey include Robinson Jeffers, Robert A. Heinlein, Henry Miller, and Robert Louis Stevenson.

I found myself charmed by the idea of Robert Louis Stevenson taking up residence there just to be close to the woman he loved until her divorce was final and they went off on their own adventures from there. Robert Louis Stevenson is of course known for bringing us The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Treasure Island. 

Robert A. Heinlein died in Monterey in 1988, but had only been living there for a short time, and the internet wasn't terribly helpful in showing where his former house or might have even remotely been. So it seems like a tangential connection at best, but, eh, I took what I could.

Of course, Heinlein matters to the Science Fiction Poetry Association for his character the blind poet Rhysling, whom we name our Rhysling Awards after for Best Poems of the Year. (Remember to start thinking of your nominations for this year, by the way. We've had some outstanding ones already!)

Modern Steinbeck Country doesn't quite resemble all of the old Dust Bowl style photographs of Dorothea Lange. The waterfront has many stops for tourists, but it was easy to find parking nearby and take in all of the sights like this toothsome fellow. The Deep Ones have been working out here, it seems. That's California for you. Everyone keeps in shape.

There weren't many bookstores in the area at the moment, although I found the online Monterey Poetry Review still going strong since 2005. I particularly enjoyed the poetry of Alyce Di Palma, which had some speculative poetry elements, although it might be too far to consider it fully a speculative poem. Han Jae Lee also had a nice pair of poems for consideration in their most recent issue, "Flower Watch," and "The Sorrow."

This bookstore in an old caboose has never been open in all of the years I've visited. I'm beginning to think it's just there for pictures. So be it.

Many moments in Monterey encouraged me that there are indeed lovers of the speculative arts and culture thriving in Steinbeck Country. A case in point was this thrift shop helping the town's most eligible find love and romance. Personally I think Bachelor #2 was the smartest, while Bachelor #1 was hard working. Bachelor #3 was a total rat, however.

The weekend was also marked by the arrival of Jurassic Quest, which included giant animatronic dinosaurs and amusements certain to entertain any child with imagination and a sense of wonder. I couldn't go in because they observe a rather strict no-dachshunds policy, but that's understandable enough. Dachshunds vs. Dinosaurs, and all.

The personal highlight of this trip for me was making my way up to Tor House and Hawk Tower, the legendary poet's estate of Robinson Jeffers. I've long admired his poetry for its stark, unflinching cosmic eye.

Though he had run into any number of controversies throughout his career, I always find him a figure worth reading when I need inspiration. It was an easy enough drive to Carmel By the Sea with a number of twisting roads that led to wondrous view when you arrive, even after so much development.

I'll have to file a separate report on this part of the journey later, but for now, I assure you that it is a fine stop for poets. I thank the volunteers there for all of their hospitality. Many influential cultural figures were guests of the Jeffers family over the years, such as Sinclair Lewis, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Langston Hughes, Charles Lindbergh, George Gershwin and Charlie Chaplin. 

A brief trip was made to the Monterey Museum of Art, which had some fine works on display, and across the way was the Moon Tree.

The Moon Tree was grown from seeds carried into space on Apollo 14 by Stuart Roosa, who'd been a smoke jumper before he joined NASA. This was one of 400 seedlings that germinated upon return to earth.  Most were given away in 1975 and 1976 to many state forestry organizations to be planted as part of the nation’s bicentennial celebration, which was coincidentally when I became a US citizen. Monterey’s Moon Tree is a Redwood. Alas, no comprehensive list was ever kept of all of the trees so the locations of many of them are unknown.

As fascinating as it all was, I couldn't stay in Steinbeck Country forever and returned home.

On the way back, I fed a stray white dog in the shadows of the last gas station James Dean ever stopped at before he crashed into a tree a half-hour away, alone. It feels like there should be a poem in there, somewhere.

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