Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Donald Justice: "Time and the Weather"

This weekend, while the year is yet early and blowing snow continues to fill the bay window beside me, and as many have adjusted their clocks for the shift to U.S. Daylight Saving Time—once done after the drift into spring rather than while still in winter drifts—that occurred between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m., I am once again mindful of Donald Justice, a poet whose work repeatedly exhibited an exquisite sense of time, both in content and in style. An interest in the passage of time, including its positive and negative influences on people or places, frequently was pronounced among Justice’s favorite themes. In addition, although he demonstrated an ability to write wonderfully lyrical and evocative free verse, Justice often displayed his finely trained poetic ear with rhyming and metered poems that presented exact timing.

As I mentioned in my Valparaiso Poetry Review commentary on Donald Justice’s Collected Poems in the Fall/Winter 2005-2006 issue (Volume VII, Number 1), Justice’s love for music held a prominent place throughout his life and contributed to his poetry as content material. Despite his occasional claim to the contrary, apparently his musical skill and perfect pitch also served to guide him when writing with rhythm and meter. Justice began his college career as a music student at the University of Miami, where he studied under the guidance of famed composer Carl Ruggles, a figure who, according to Justice, left a powerful and lasting impression that continued throughout his whole life.

After graduating from the University of Miami with a B.A. in English, Justice was encouraged by Ruggles to pursue his education in musical composition at Yale; however, Justice chose to continue in English and creative writing by attending a progression of graduate programs at various universities—the University of North Carolina, Stanford University, and the University of Iowa. In a Dana Gioia interview with the poet, Justice sums it up: “My composition teacher, Carl Ruggles, wanted me to go to Yale to study with Paul Hindemith. I was faced with a decision. Not only did my family have very little money, but I suspected that I might have more talent as a writer than as a composer, much as I would have liked to go on writing music.”

Although Justice gave up a formal music education, his poetic patterns frequently followed closely or proceeded from forms approaching the organizational mode of musical composition as he penned a number of sonatinas, songs, improvisations, or variations on themes. The following appears to be an appropriate poem for today with some rhyme and rhythm. The work was published in Night Light, Donald Justice’s collection released in 1967:


Time and the weather wear away
The houses that our fathers built.
Their ghostly furniture remains—
All the sad sofas we have stained
With tears of boredom and of guilt,

The fraying mottoes, the stopped clocks . . .
And still sometimes these tired shapes
Haunt the damp parlors of the heart.
What Sunday prisons they recall!
And what miraculous escapes!

The accompanying video at the top of this post offers an impression of Donald Justice’s “Poem To Be Read at Three A.M.” This free-verse piece is one of the two parts to “American Sketches,” a poem which also appeared in Night Light and that Justice dedicated to William Carlos Williams, an obvious influence:


Excepting the diner
On the outskirts
The town of Ladora
At 3 A.M.
Was dark but
For my headlights
And up in
One second-story room
A single light
Where someone
Was sick or
Perhaps reading
As I drove past
At seventy
Not thinking
This poem
Is for whoever
Had the light on

Over the years, I have met a number of poets who had fond memories of Donald Justice: some recalled him as an excellent teacher, while others remembered him as a good friend. Often, he was considered both. My favorite memory involves my first meeting with him. As a graduate student assisting in the visiting writers series at the University of Utah, I sometimes was asked to escort visiting poets during their stay in Salt Lake City. When Don came to town, he was to be around campus for a few days to meet with students in the creative writing program and to deliver a reading.

However, Donald Justice was someone who enjoyed gambling, as many who knew him will confirm. Therefore, one day during his stay, he suggested a road trip across the state line into Nevada, where he could try his luck and wager much of his honorarium at the casinos. Consequently, along with a couple of other doctoral candidates in creative writing who already knew Don from their days as his students in the MFA program at Iowa, he and I slipped away from the university to travel a highway across the desert and into Nevada.

We moved through one casino and then another, playing blackjack, poker, and craps, the game which Don seemed to enjoy the most, partially because he was again assuming the role of the good teacher, instructing me about the rules and odds as he participated. He appeared to appreciate the thrill of the adventure and the friendship with the other two and myself as much as he liked the idea of possibly winning some money. Indeed, by the close of action he’d actually lost a couple hundred dollars, but the ride back was even more delightful as he told tales of past gambling events and other amusing stories, all the while also explaining his views on poets and poetry he admired, and I discovered an admiration for him beyond that I already held for his poetry.

Somewhat later, when I had written a review of Don’s book of Selected Poems in which I detailed how he’d revised many of the pieces from their original forms in past individual collections, I received a kind letter from him, thanking me for taking the research time to note even the smallest changes and for offering such a close reading of his work because such detail mattered to him. He also recalled our road trip to Nevada, sending thanks again for the great day he had with me and the other two students. In fact, the couple of times I saw him after then, each meeting he remarked about how the road trip and our day at the casinos had been highlights of his visit.

I admit the experience had been a highlight for me as well. Today, about a quarter century since then, I still see a pair of dice tumbling across a felt table, and I continue to hear the friendly words about gambling or about poetry that Don shared that day. Especially on this snowy morning as we manipulate time by turning our clocks ahead, I turn back once more to the western desert scene in my memory, which itself manipulates time, and I again listen to Don voicing poetic advice even as I take a turn at the craps table, confiding to me that one always must try to roll the dice with a winning rhythm.


Tad Richards said...

Interestingly, here's what Don had to say about music and poetry:

“I can't think of any effect at all [of the study of music on his poetry]. None…I don't happen to think that poetry is—or can be—very ‘musical.’ It's a figure of speech, basically. My God, how I've heard the term misused and abused! That may be how the study of music affected me—to make me less tolerant of the kind of nonsense uttered on this score. Some even go so far as to speak of the melody of poetry. But the fact is that poetry has no melody, which involves pitch…’Musical’ when applied to poetry seems to mean approximately what ‘poetic’ means when applied to music.”


Edward Byrne said...

Hi, Tad:

Yes, as I mention, Justice usually resisted the critical link between poetic meter and music. However, he repeatedly used music as subject matter and source of information for his poems, as well as for inspiration in their sound, and he even titled a number of poems with musical terms.

Don once said that "words sometimes, through likeness to sound, become bound to one another." He also commented, in response to an interview question about the process of his poetry writing, that he usually began "with a word or phrase, perhaps even a sort of rhythm. Forgive me--I almost said musical rhythm."

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