Photography by Martina Tannery
What I first knew of Laura (Riding) Jackson, one of America’s major 20th-century modernist writers, I learned from her house. It stood by itself in a little clearing on the grounds of the Environmental Learning Center, a white, wooden, century-old Florida vernacular cottage with green window trim and a red tin roof, home for over 50 years to the woman some critics have considered to be among the greatest poets of the 20th century.
With its “dirt, rot, cobwebs and shambles,” as once described by Jackson herself, the Wabasso house was purchased in 1941 along with 11 acres of citrus groves west of U.S. 1 near the railroad tracks. With no electricity for 50 years until her caretakers demanded its installation, the poet and her husband, Schuyler Jackson, avoided modern conveniences, using instead kerosene for heat and light, propane for cooking and water drawn from an artesian well.
When I first visited the 1,400-square-foot pine cottage, the kitchen was still intact, complete with stove, icebox and spices, along with some lemon oil jars, an iron and a scale still sitting on a shelf. The house was modest and simple, the walls unadorned except for an Audubon print of a mid-19th-century woman who reportedly reminded Schuyler of his wife. With just a few pieces of unrelated furniture on which to sit, write, sleep and eat, the interior was spare and bare with space only for thinking.