My Interview with A. M. Juster

In 2010 Paul Mariani gently “outed” Commissioner of Social Security Michael Astrue, who had served in senior roles for four presidents, as the poet writing as “A. M. Juster.” That year Astrue won the Alzheimer’s Association’s Humanitarian of the Year Award to go with awards from many health care and disability organizations. A poet with a background very unlike that of most contemporary poets, Juster talks about auspicious and inauspicious trends in contemporary poetry and his own approach to the craft of writing and translating verse.

The Great Bill Russell’s Hope for America

One of the first books that made an impression on me was a memoir by the legendary Bill Russell, Second Wind, co-authored with Taylor Branch, who later won the Pulitzer for Parting the Waters, the first of three books chronicling America in the King Years. Here is a brief but eloquent statement from Russell about the “strange times” we’re living in. Our president could learn a lot about winning from this true champion.

2020 Newburyport Favorite Poem Project

The U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky launched The Favorite Poem project in 1998. Five years later, Debbie Szabo, Newburyport High School’s beloved English teacher, started the Newburyport Favorite Poem project, which has been an annual event held at The Firehouse ever since. Covid 19 threatened to cancel year 18, but Debbie rose to the challenge and organized the readings as a series of Youtube videos, which can be viewed here.

The Rosary: A Tract for Catholic Misfits

My good friend Jim Rurak, who served as mayor of the city of Haverhill has published a book addressed to a certain kind of Catholic reader. As he says in his Preface: “If you, like me, are no longer feeling at home in the Roman Catholic Church, I hope you find both value and maybe even relief from my personal testimony about how the Rosary fills a hole in my spiritual life.”

I’m proud to say that, as one of the manuscript’s first readers, I helped bring this book into the world. It can’t hurt, and maybe it can help.

Purchase the book from Wipf and Stock Publishers

Purchase the book from

“Cruel April: Poems for the Pandemic”

In an email message, Daniel Mark Epstein writes, “I have long had a policy not to send unpublished poetry to friends or family. Now I’m breaking my own rule for a sequence of poems that is so much of the moment I feel an urgency to share them in the moment.” In the same spirit, Epstein has now produced a video of the sonnet sequence read by award-winning actors Tyne Daly, Paul Hecht, Jennifer Van Dyck, and Harris Yulin, and illustrated with artwork contributed by members and friends of Tivoli Artists Gallery. Producer: Holly Peppe; Art Director: Doug Trapp; Artistic Advisor: Paul Hecht


Poet Robert Mezey, 1935-2020

I keep a file labeled “100 Books,” which is a list of the best books I’ve read in my life. There aren’t really a hundred books on it yet. One of the books on my list exists only in manuscript: I had the extreme good fortune of reading a GBC-bound photocopy of that work. It is a translation of the poems of Jorge Luis Borges by the poets Robert Mezey and Dick Barnes, for which they never received permission to publish.

In 2017, Bob Mezey agreed to read at the Newburyport Literary Festival. In his correspondence he was fretful about his travel arrangements, about the sound system, about the amount of time he’d be given to read. And when he arrived, he appeared old and frail. My wife Gina attentively helped him get back and forth from his room at the inn to his reading. I’d arranged for Mezey to be the final reader, pairing him with Robert Shaw, saving the best for last. When it was Mezey’s turn, he asked for the microphone to be shut off, which didn’t seem like a good idea. Then he brought the audience in closer, where they gathered in a semi-circle near the podium, and he began his reading. It was something to see, something to hear: the authority returned to his voice, he read with great expression and a sense of humor. We saw laughter in his eyes, we heard more than personal sorrow in the words he spoke. He did me the great favor of reading his wonderful narrative poem, “The Golem,” which I’d requested. It was an unforgettable reading.

Robert Mezey died of pneumonia on Saturday, April 25. America has lost one of its finest poets.

Here is a link to his obituary in The Los Angeles Times, written by Dana Gioia.