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.
Talking all night on Youtube sounds like something Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady would have done, had the technology been available. This is another kind of ambitiously spontaneous endeavor. Mark McDonnell and Mary Meriam have set up a Youtube channel called The Ballsians where you can hear poets read their work aloud, including several of the Powow River Poets: A. M. Juster, Kyle Potvin, and Andrew Szilvasy. Other talented contributors included Erica Dawson, David Southward, Rick Mullin and David Katz. Here’s a link to my reading.
8:30-10:00 AMBreakfast with the Poets: Wake up on this festive day with coffee, pastry and poetry. The locally-based, nationally-recognized Powow River Poets never leave their readers in the dark! Anton Yakovlev, Jose Edmundo Ocampo Reyes, Toni Treadway, David Davis andA. M. Justerwill read from books they’ve published since last year’s breakfast. (There must be something in those pastries Gina bakes.)
10:00 AM The Poetry of Maryann Corbett & Nausheen Eusuf: Two remarkable poets whose work appears in Best American Poetry 2018, Maryann Corbett and Nausheen Eusuf know that, whatever poetry is about, it is always about language. It is a kind of liberation to recognize that. Both poets, Eusuf with her virtuoso wordplay and Corbett with her knowledge of ancient tongues, employ a whole range of language—different tones and voices, high and low modes of speech, allusions, quotations, and puns—to touch on things that matter either for the moment or for eternity.
11:00 The Poetry of January O’Neill & Ned Balbo: “The world is too much with us,” but ultra-contemporary poets January O’Neil and Ned Balbo have not turned their backs on it. Their poems make room for tattooed girls and young men in grey hoodies, reruns of Star Trek, LSD and Wikileaks, hospital corridors and crabcake recipes and Smart TVs. Here you’ll find elegies for Prince and David Bowie and odes to brownies for Sunday breakfast. And family: imagined and real, close-knit and departing. Somehow, in the middle of so much stuff, a space is cleared for these poems to become “vessels of almost uncontainable longing” where— always—“there is that question of how to love.”
1:00 The poetry of Daniel Hall & Mary Jo Salter: It’s no wonder that these two distinguished poets are also distinguished teachers of poetry, Daniel Hall at Amherst College and Mary Jo Salter at Johns Hopkins. Each of them is a consummate craftsperson, and both seem to embody the ancient idea of sprezzatura, choosing “to avoid affectation in every way,” perfecting their art by making it appear to occur naturally and without effort. This is poetry that rewards our attention without clamoring for it. As in a clear night’s sky, we’re offered much to marvel at.
2:00 The Poetry of Major Jackson & Sydney Lea: Besides the state in which they reside, what these two Vermont poets have most in common is, paradoxically, what sets them apart. They don’t sound anything like each other —nor does either of them sound much like anyone else. “The poetry Major Jackson offers us…sounds different from any other being written today,” writes one reviewer. “The truth is, no one writes—or has written—like Sydney Lea, except maybe E. A. Robinson,” writes another. Here are two unique and original voices in contemporary American poetry.
3:00 PM The Poetry of Rhina P. Espaillat & David Ferry: Biographies of famous poets sometimes leave us with the impression that poetic talent and decent behavior may be inversely proportional. That’s not the case with Rhina Espaillat and David Ferry, two of America’s finest poets, whose poetic visions are extensions of their personalities. Ferry, who volunteered for years at a dinner for street people, gives voice to the homeless and isolated in his poems. The poems of Espaillat, whose kitchen table has been the site of so many creative collaborations, envision humanity as “one single family.”
The double dactyl is aptly described on the jacket of this new anthology as “a devilish amalgam of rhyme, meter, name-dropping and pure nonsense,” but editors Daniel Groves and Greg Williamson have somehow persuaded the likes of X. J. Kennedy, J. D. McClatchy, Kim Bridgford, Caki Wilkinson, Andrew Hudgins and Charles Martin to contribute their efforts to this new anthology, conceived as a follow-up to the original Jiggery-Pokery anthology compiled by the inventors of the form, Anthony Hecht and John Hollander. Also included are three of my own poems, along with several by my good friend A. M. Juster.
Read Midge Goldberg’s response to A. M. Juster’s new volume of poems and translations in The Claremont Review of Books.
Okay, this essay, published in The Literateur, speaks favorably of a friend’s book for which I happened to write a blurb—but all of that aside, the review is an entertainment in itself: read it just for the fun of it!
8:30 M Breakfast with the Poets: Four Powow River Poets with new books, Bill Coyle, David Davis, Nancy Bailey Miller, and Anton Yakovlev, along with special guest, David Berman.
10 AM Deft with a Dagger: A. M. Juster & Alexandra Oliver. You’ll die laughing.
11 AM The Play of Thought: Deborah Warren & Dan Brown. “Wit” has meant different things at different times. My favorite definition is from the 17th century: “Natural Wit consisteth in two things: Celerity in Imagining (that is, swift succession of one thought to another), and steddy direction to some approved end.” Here are two of our wittiest contemporaries.
1 PM Imagination Without Pretense: Kevin Carey & Midge Goldberg. William Wordsworth would have loved these two poets, who write about “incidents and situations from common life” in “language really used by men [and women].” That’s probably what makes them both favorites of Garrision Keillor as well.
2 PM Licensed by the Muse: James Matthew Wilson & Catherine Chandler. In a time when many poets declare themselves “liberated” not only from meter and rhyme but even from punctuation and the rules of grammar, these two poets have devoted themselves to the study and practice of Engish verse technique, tapping into a creative wellspring over 700 years old. Theirs is truly “roots” music!
3 PM Master Craftsmen: Robert Shaw & Robert Mezey. Robert Mezey has been accused of “an unyielding poetic integrity;” Robert Shaw would plead guilty of the same offense. That may explain why these two excellent poets have stayed out of the spotlight despite lifetimes of high literary achievement. Like skilled burglars, their focus is not on getting attention but on getting the job done.
You really have to give yourself the pleasure of reading A.M. Juster’s review of The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner, a book that Juster finds “self-indulgent, intellectually lazy, and bizarrely unfocused.” Read more at The Claremont Review of Books.
I’m afraid the title of this post sounds like a description of the nightly news, but I am referring to Micah Mattix’s review of A. M. Juster’s new book of poetry, Sleaze & Slander, which deserves the high praise Mattix gives it.