[T]he work for which he will be remembered is of course his poems whose principal beauty lies in the wistful articulation and sad acknowledgement that little or nothing survives the great drama and effort that is life. Sorry news

Sorry news while my train crawls up the coast on a cold day.

It’s like Pyongyang in this car, internet connection-wise; I told YouTube to take me to The Essential Nina Simone, and it’s … you know… chewing over the matter …

Oh, okay, black screen with … An error occurred; please try again later on it… With Learn More on it…

I’m trying to learn more! (Once again Trenton New Jersey this is Trenton New Jersey.) Why do you think I’ve tried to summon her husky dusky wistful articulation and sad acknowledgement?

Donald Justice was a jazz musician too – poet, painter, jazz musician. Let’s see if I have enough connection to grasp hold of Nostalgia of the Lakefronts.

Yes. Here it is, a most affecting and difficult poem.

Cities burn behind us; the lake glitters.
A tall loudspeaker is announcing prizes;
Another, by the lake, the times of cruises.
Childhood, once vast with terrors and surprises,
Is fading to a landscape deep with distance—
And always the sad piano in the distance,

Faintly in the distance, a ghostly tinkling
(O indecipherable blurred harmonies)
Or some far horn repeating over water
Its high lost note, cut loose from all harmonies.
At such times, wakeful, a child will dream the world,
And this is the world we run to from the world.


Or the two worlds come together and are one
On dark, sweet afternoons of storm and of rain,
And stereopticons brought out and dusted,
Stacks of old Geographics, or, through the rain,
A mad wet dash to the local movie palace
And the shriek, perhaps, of Kane’s white cockatoo.
(Would this have been summer, 1942?)

By June the city always seems neurotic.
But lakes are good all summer for reflection,
And ours is famed among painters for its blues,
Yet not entirely sad, upon reflection.
Why sad at all? Is their wish so unique—
To anthropomorphize the inanimate
With a love that masquerades as pure technique?

O art and the child were innocent together!
But landscapes grow abstract, like aging parents.
Soon now the war will shutter the grand hotels,
And we, when we come back, will come as parents.
There are no lanterns now strung between pines—
Only, like history, the stark bare northern pines.

And after a time the lakefront disappears
Into the stubborn verses of its exiles
Or a few gifted sketches of old piers.
It rains perhaps on the other side of the heart;
Then we remember, whether we would or no.
—Nostalgia comes with the smell of rain, you know.

So if little or nothing survives, if the lakefront itself disappears, we do what we can, while we still live, to recuperate – or, say, aestheticize – what life we have had, have been able to have. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, Lolita! Humbert’s obsessive love letter keeps the two of them going… Or think of that curious novel The White Hotel, with its evocation of memory real and unreal, untraumatic and traumatic – the utopian hotel where every woman opens her breasts to suckle every man… a world of vital perpetually renewed love … This is the world we run to from the world.

When it’s young the world glitters, cities burn bright, and we run toward that. Cruises, prizes. Loud speaking. And then distance, distance, distance, three uses of the word one after the other, the whole poem obsessively repeating the same words as the poet circles and circles the life that he had, the great drama and effort.

Ah. YouTube has finally granted me some music. A few plucks of Anoushka Shankar… Constant interruptions as the train (We’re pulling in to Newark.) lists…

Harmonies, when it’s all behind you, blur and become the drone (says Justice) that pulls everything she plucks down to One…

Or the two worlds come together and are one
On dark, sweet afternoons of storm and of rain,
And stereopticons brought out and dusted,
Stacks of old Geographics, or, through the rain…

Privileged moody moments, then, when you see in stereo, past/present; but this only when the world itself shuts down (dark afternoons, storm, rain) and, quieted and still, lets play out the geography of past and present. And then the artist can perform her utopian replenishment… As in: The frost performs its secret ministry…

To anthropomorphize the inanimate
With a love that masquerades as pure technique

What if Heathcliff were an artist! Instead of puling and wasting away (“Cathy! Come back!”), he’d take his insane life-force and make her live again through whatever technique he let himself be taken by.

There are no lanterns now strung between pines—
Only, like history, the stark bare northern pines.

We brilliant it up with lanterns – folk art – decorative art – to go with gestures of purer artistic technique – but little or nothing survives the effort. So what. Embellishment as a kind of kiss of life is what we do.

And after a time the lakefront disappears
Into the stubborn verses of its exiles
Or a few gifted sketches of old piers.
It rains perhaps on the other side of the heart;
Then we remember, whether we would or no.
—Nostalgia comes with the smell of rain, you know.

All gone. Stubbornly, though, from exile, we write verses or paint pictures about it; and that’s our form of life-abundance, life-replenishment — the aestheticization of the existence we loved.

Or no – there’s also that involuntary memory about which Proust wrote. Prompted unbidden by a taste or by the smell of rain. We have that too.

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One Response to “Mark Strand on Donald Justice:”

  1. Polish Peter Says:

    An internet connection on Amtrak is like a talking dog. If you met one, you’d be amazed that it can do it at all, not necessarily that it does it well.

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