Thursday, February 23, 2012

Justice's poetry deserves to be read

Originally printed July 13, 2011, in the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

"Donald Justice is dead," Donald Justice himself wrote toward the middle of his poem "Variations on a Text by Vallejo," which was included in his 1973 collection, "Departures."

That sentence took on new meaning in 2004, when the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and longtime Iowa City resident died just a few weeks before the publication of his "Collected Poems," which provided a 300-page distillation of a lifetime's worth of work from a man often hailed as a "poet's poet."

While still in mourning for the poet, devoted readers that year were given a single volume in which they could travel from Justice's early work in the 1960 collection "The Summer Anniversaries" ("Great Leo roared at my birth"), through his mid-life poems the 1967 collection "Night Life" (1967) ("Men at forty / Learn to close softly / The doors to rooms they will not be / Coming back to"), through his experimental poems in "Departures" ("This poem is not addressed to you"), through his 1987 collection "The Sunset Maker" ("Nostalgia comes with the smell of rain, you know") through the new poems included among his later selections ("O prolong / Now the sorrow if that is all there is to prolong").