Tuesday, November 15, 2016

California by Ina Coolbrith (1918)

Ina Coolbrith was the first poet laureate of California; she was actually the first poet laureate of any state in the United States.  She's utterly fascinating - she knew, befriended and supported writers and artists:  Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce (Bierce was acid towards her and their friendship soured) and Bret Harte).  She "terminated a youthful failed marriage" via a "sensational public trial" - an early divorcee!   She held literary salons.  She was cool.  And she was a librarian - one of my people.   In fact, it sounds like she was Jack London's librarian (he called her his literary mother).  She was also Isadora Ducan's librarian.   So in my mind she is extra cool.

The fire following the 1906 earthquake consumed most of her work.

I read a limited edition published in 1918 (only 500 copies) of California; she wrote the poem for University of California Commence Day, whatever that was.

In the introduction, she says this about our grand and great state:

After reading this, I felt so proud to live here.  It's a beautiful place, a poem indeed.
In any way, shape or form, Coolbrith's poem is not the greatest poem ever written. It's flowery and old-fashioned, and high falutin'.  But it contains some exquisite and moving phrases and words that make you proud to be a Californian.  Like this:
"The palm-tree and the pine
Strike hands together under the same skies"

She really captures the wonderful dichotomy of the state, from the ocean to the mountains to the desert to the farmlands and back and again and again.

The particular book I read is beautifully designed by an artist named Laurence B. Haste.  I imagine they were both part of the same artistic community in San Francisco.  

You can actually read the book itself, scanned completely online, here.  You should go do it.  

Here is another poem by her that's really quite lovely:

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