Justice, Donald (Rodney) 1925-

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JUSTICE, Donald (Rodney) 1925-

PERSONAL: Born August 12, 1925, in Miami, FL; son of Vascoe J. (a carpenter) and Mary Ethel (Cook) Justice; married Jean Catherine Ross (a writer), August 22, 1947; children: Nathaniel Ross. Education: University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL, B.A., 1945; University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, M.A., 1947; attended Stanford University, 1947-48; University of Iowa, Ph.D., 1954. Hobbies and other interests: Composition in music, drawing and painting.

ADDRESSES: Home—338 Rocky Shore Dr., Iowa City, IA 52246.

CAREER: Educator, poet, and painter. University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL, instructor, 1947-48, 1949-51; University of Missouri—Columbia, visiting assistant professor of English, 1955-56; Hamline University, St. Paul, MN, assistant professor of English, 1956-57; University of Iowa, Iowa City, visiting lecturer, 1957-59, assistant professor, 1959-63, associate professor, 1963-66, professor of English, 1971-82; Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY, associate professor, 1966-67, professor of English, 1967-70; University of California—Irvine, visiting professor of English, 1970-71; University of Florida, Gainesville, professor of English, 1982-92. Reed College, poet-in-residence, 1962; Princeton University, Bain-Swiggett Lecturer, 1976; University of Virginia, visiting professor, 1980. Painter, including cover illustrations for books.

MEMBER: American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, Academy of American Poets (chancellor).

AWARDS, HONORS: Rockefeller Foundation fellow in poetry at University of Iowa, 1954-55; Academy of American Poets Lamont Poetry Selection, 1959, for The Summer Anniversaries, and fellow, 1988; Poetry Inez Boulton Prize, 1960, and Harriet Monroe Award; Ford Foundation fellowship in theater, 1964-65; National Endowment for the Arts grants, 1967, 1973, 1980, and 1989; National Book Award nominations, 1973, for Departures, and 1995, for New and Selected Poems; Guggenheim fellowship in poetry, 1976-77; Pulitzer Prize in poetry, 1979, for Selected Poems; Harriet Monroe Award, University of Chicago, 1984; National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, 1988, for The Sunset Maker: Poems/Stories/A Memoir; Bollingen Prize for poetry, 1991, for A Donald Justice Reader: Selected Poetry and Prose; Lannan Literary Award for poetry, 1996; also received awards for short fiction.



The Old Bachelor and Other Poems, 1951.

The Summer Anniversaries, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 1960, revised edition, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 1981.

A Local Storm, Stone Wall Press (Iowa City, IA), 1963.

Night Light, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 1967, revised edition, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 1981.

(With Tom McAfee, Donald Drummond, and R. P. Dickey) Four Poets, Central College of Pella (Pella, IA), 1968.

Sixteen Poems, Stone Wall Press (Iowa City, IA), 1970.

From a Notebook, Seamark Press (Iowa City, IA), 1971.

Departures, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1973.

Selected Poems, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1979.

Tremayne, Windhover Press (Iowa City, IA), 1984.

New and Selected Poems, Knopf (New York, NY), 1995.

Poems to Go, Knopf (New York, NY), 1995.

Orpheus Hesitated beside the Black River: Poems, 1952-1997, Anvil Press Poetry (London, England), 1998.


The Collected Poems of Weldon Kees, Stone Wall Press (Iowa City, IA), 1960, revised edition, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1992.

(With Alexander Aspel) Contemporary French Poetry: Fourteen Witnesses of Man's Fate, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1965.

Syracuse Poems, Department of English, Syracuse University (Syracuse, NY), 1968.

(With Robert Mezey, and coauthor of introduction) The Collected Poems of Henri Coulette, University of Arkansas Press (Fayetteville, AR), 1990.

(With Cooper R. Mackin and Richard D. Olson, and author of introduction) The Comma after Love: Selected Poems of Raeburn Miller, University of Akron Press (Akron, OH), 1994.

Joe Bolton, The Last Nostalgia: Collected Poems, 1982-1990, University of Arkansas Press (Fayetteville, AR), 1999.


(Translator) Eugène Guillevic, L'Homme qui se ferme/The Man Closing Up, Stone Wall Press (Iowa City, IA), 1973.

Platonic Scripts (essays), University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1984.

The Sunset Maker: Poems/Stories/A Memoir, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1987.

The Death of Lincoln: A Documentary Opera (libretto), A. Thomas Taylor, 1988.

A Donald Justice Reader: Selected Poetry and Prose, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 1991.

Oblivion: On Writers and Writing, Story Line Press (Ashland, OR), 1998.

Author of librettos and one-act plays. Contributor to books, including On Creative Writing, edited by Paul Engle, Dutton (New York, NY), 1964; New Poets of England and America; Twentieth-Century American Poetry, edited by Conrad Aiken; Contemporary American Poetry, edited by A. J. Poulin; The Direction of Poetry, edited by Robert Richman; and Contemporary American Poetry, edited by Donald Hall. Contributor of essays and short stories to literary journals, including Poetry, Antaeus, New Yorker, and New Criterion. Poetry recordings include Childhood and Other Poems, Watershed, 1983; selections recorded by Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature (Washington, DC), 1973, 1992.

A collection of Justice's manuscripts is housed at the University of Delaware Library, Dover.

SIDELIGHTS: "Those in a position to appreciate craft" in poetry have long admired the works of Donald Justice, Cathrael Kazin wrote in the Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1983. Justice's first published book, The Summer Anniversaries, was the 1959 Lamont Poetry Selection, while his more recent Departures received a National Book Award nomination in 1973 and Selected Poems won the Pulitzer Prize in 1979. Added Kazin: "Justice has come to be recognized not only as one of America's most elegant and distinctive contemporary poets but also as one of its most significant." Technical prowess "never calls attention to itself in Justice's understated work," claimed Southern Review contributor Dana Gioia. While the poet's presence is implied by his control of form, according to reviewers, Justice uses the poems to efface the self rather than to vaunt it. Because one way of diminishing the self is to relax its control over form, Justice has sometimes used chance methods—such as shuffling word cards together—to compose poems. Thus, wrote Gioia, "Justice has published very little, but he has also distilled a decade of writing and experimentation in each new volume."

Published in 1960, The Summer Anniversaries established Justice's reputation for attention to craft. The book, related Greg Simon in the American Poetry Review, "consists of flawless poems, moving as inexorably as glaciers toward beautiful comprehension and immersion in reality." Night Light, published in 1967, presents poems that "are not so . . . manicured as those in The Summer Anniversaries," noted Joel O. Conarroe in a Shenandoah review, while in Departures critics praised Justice for a command of poetic technique that surpassed much of his earlier work.

"The new Justice poem is no longer a set piece or still life, forced into shape," added Simon in his review of the 1973 volume, "but a vigorous and rhythmical composition, prosody at the limit of its kinetic potential. This remarkable new intention in Justice's work accounts for the fact that the forms of the best poems in Departures are invisible architecture. . . . It is intoxicating to see Justice now unfettered by the forms that circumscribed and dictated the action in his early poems; and to see him working with sources that are not only naturally energetic and new, but demanding in conception and daring in stance."

In subsequent books Justice has experimented with deliberate mistranslations of poems in other languages, or with methods of composition that combine words at random until they suggest a statement or a form. These methods help the poet to focus more on his materials than on his conscious control over them. Justice himself sees such "chance" methods as "in its way, a formal approach," one which allows him "to see images a little differently." Paul Ramsey, writing in the Sewanee Review, commented that Justice's poems composed in this way are prone "to fragmentation . . . [yet] his fragments sound completed. . . . His gift for order is an irresistible gift."

Gioia suggested that no other American poet has perfected as many poetic styles. Justice's 1979 Selected Poems "reads almost like an anthology of the possibilities of contemporary poetry," Gioia noted. "There are sestinas, villanelles and ballads rubbing shoulders with aleatory poems [composed using chance methods], surreal odes, and . . . free verse. . . . Anew technique is often developed, mastered, and exhausted in one unprecedented and unrepeatable poem." During the selection process credited in the title, Justice rewrote some poems and gave them a new sequence to make Selected Poems a "nearly perfect volume," according to Gioia. In a Parnassus review, Vernon Young noted, "I doubt if there are six poems in [Selected Poems] which could be claimed for the public sensibility. But Justice has written a dozen lyrics I'd call virtually incomparable."

Autobiography figures little in Justice's work. "The principles of composition . . . really occupy him, not his own life," explained Yale Review contributor Richard Wertime. For the poet, his art functions as a hedge against death and loss. In his essay "Meters and Memory," reprinted in Oblivion: On Writers and Writing, Justice explains how writing about loss enables him to endure: "To remember an event is almost to begin to control it, as well as to approach an understanding of it; incapable of recurring now, it is only to be contemplated rather than acted on or reacted to. . . . The terror or beauty or, for that matter, the plain ordinariness of the original event, being transformed, is fixed and thereby made more tolerable. That the event can recur only in its new context, the context of art, sheers it of some risks, the chief of which may anyhow have been its transitory character." Submitting his materials to metrical structures is part of this process. As Robert Peters noted in the American Book Review, because "art endures while life is brief," Justice's elegies mitigate the total loss of death. Observed Kazin, "In the guise of lamenting a loss, [the poems] perform acts of preservation"; resurrected by memory and ensconced in art, the lost friends of childhood, suicides, and other casualties gain an extended life. Justice succeeds, explained Edward Hirsch in the New York Times Book Review, because "he counters our inevitable human losses with an unforgettable and permanent music."

Piano lessons Justice enjoyed as a child provide the central motif of The Sunset Maker: Poems/Stories/A Memoir. In this work Justice closely relates music and poetry through both verse and prose. "On the whole," Bruce Bawer commented in the Washington Post Book World, "The Sunset Maker is a deeply affecting volume—a beautiful, powerful meditation by a modern master upon the themes of aging, lost innocence, and the unalterable, terrifying pastness of the past."

A Donald Justice Reader: Selected Poetry and Prose gathers into one volume seventy-three poems and six prose pieces: three essays, two stories, and a memoir of Justice's Miami childhood. Felix Stefanile, writing in the Christian Science Monitor, called this collection "a real gift" since "it is a sign of Donald Justice's clear, retentive mind that so many of these works, assembled over decades—verse and prose—talk to each other." The essay "The Invention of Free Verse" proposes that a commemorative tablet be erected in Crawfordsville, Indiana, at Wabash College, to acknowledge Ezra Pound, and to celebrate the time (1907) and the place (Crawfordsville) of the invention of modern poetry. The collection also includes examples of Justice's poems about time and place, among them "Crossing Kansas by Train." A reviewer for the Virginia Quarterly Review commented that "Justice certainly deserves the wider audience this selection from his poems and prose . . . is designed to produce" since he is "revered by other poets as a virtuoso craftsman."

New and Selected Poems, published four years later in 1995, offers another collection of Justice's poems. Reviewing the work, Michael Hoffman, in the New York Times Book Review, deemed Justice's writing "skillful and musical" and maintained that Justice "probably has few peers when it comes to the musical arrangement of words in a line." A writer for Publishers Weekly acknowledged the work as a timeless retrospective on the work of an award-winning poet, and concluded: "Until we see a complete collected works, this is probably the definitive Justice."



Contemporary Poets, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.

Contemporary Southern Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.

Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1983, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984.

Encyclopedia of World Literature in the Twentieth Century, Volume 2, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999, pp. 583-584.

Gioia, Dana, and William Logan, editors, Certain Solitudes: On the Poetry of Donald Justice, University of Arkansas Press (Fayetteville, AR), 1998.

Hoy, Philip, Donald Justice in Conversation with Philip Hoy, Between the Lines (London, England), 2001.


American Book Review, January, 1982; April-May, 1993, p. 26.

American Poetry Review, March-April, 1976, Greg Simon, "On Donald Justice"; May, 1988, p. 9; January-February, 1996, interview with Dana Gioia.

Antaeus, spring-summer, 1982.

Antioch Review, winter, 1988, p. 102; summer, 1996, p. 377.

Booklist, January 1, 1992, p. 805; September 15, 1995, p. 132.

Boston Review, June, 1987, p. 27.

Choice, February, 1985, p. 815.

Christian Science Monitor, April 20, 1992, Felix Stefanile, review of A Donald Justice Reader: Selected Poetry and Prose, p. 13.

Economist, March 13, 1999, review of New and Selected Poems, p. S14.

Hollins Critic, October, 1992, Lewis Turco, "The Progress of Donald Justice."

Hudson Review, spring, 1974.

Iowa Review, spring-summer, 1980, pp. 1-21; winter, 1999, Jerry Harp, review of Oblivion: On Writers and Writing, p. 167.

Library Journal, February 1, 1967; May 1, 1987, p. 71; December, 1991, p. 144; September 15, 1995, p. 72; April 1, 1997, p. 95.

Los Angeles Times, August 12, 1987, Frances Ruhlen McConnel, review of The Sunset Maker: Poems/Stories/A Memoir.

Missouri Review, fall, 1980, pp. 41-67.

Modern Language Studies, winter, 1978-79.

Modern Poetry Studies, spring, 1980, pp. 44-58.

Nation, December 26, 1987, p. 803.

New Statesman, August 22, 1980, pp. 17-18; August 23, 1987, p. 28.

New York Herald Tribune Books, September 4, 1960.

New York Review of Books, October 16, 1975.

New York Times Book Review, February 19, 1961; March 9, 1980, pp. 8, 16; August 23, 1987, p. 20; December 27, 1992, p. 2; December 10, 1995, Michael Hoffman, review of New and Selected Poems, pp. 13-14; September 19, 1996, p. 49.

Notes on Contemporary Literature, November, 1996, James A. McCoy, "'Black Flowers, Black Flowers': Meta-Criticism in Donald Justice's 'Bus Stop.'"

Ohio Review, spring, 2001, Wayne Dodd and Stanley Plumly, "The Effacement of Self: An Interview with Donald Justice," p. 405.

Paris Review, March, 1988, p. 490.

Parnassus, fall-winter, 1979, Vernon Young, review of Selected Poems, pp. 227-237.

Partisan Review, Volume 47, number 4, 1980, pp. 639-644.

Perspective, spring, 1962.

Poetry, October, 1974; October, 1984; September, 1989, p. 342; June, 1993, pp. 160-166; June, 1994, pp. 167-171; June, 1996, p. 168; June, 1996, p. 168; August, 1999, Christian Wiman, review of Oblivion, p. 286.

Prairie Schooner, Volume 47, 1973.

Publishers Weekly, August 28, 1995, review of New and Selected Poems, p. 108.

Punch, January 15, 1988, p. 44.

Saturday Review, October 14, 1967, pp. 31-33, 99.

Sewanee Review, spring, 1974; summer, 1980, pp. 474-478; fall, 1980; winter, 2001, David C. Ward, review of Oblivion, p. 147.

Shenandoah, summer, 1967, Joel O. Conarroe, review of Night Light.

Southern Review, summer, 1981; autumn, 1994, Charles Wright, "Homage to the Thin Man."

Southwest Review, spring, 1980, pp. 218-220.

Times Literary Supplement, May 18, 1967; March 29, 1974; April 16, 1976; May 30, 1980, p. 620; April 15-21, 1988, p. 420; July 30, 1999, N. S. Thompson, reviews of Orpheus Hesitated beside the Black River: Poems, 1952-1957 and Oblivion, p. 23.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), June 21, 1987, p. 3.

Verse, winter-spring, 1992.

Virginia Quarterly Review, summer, 1992, review of A Donald Justice Reader, p. 101.

Wallace Stevens Journal, fall, 1993, Clive Watkins, "Some Reflections on Donald Justice's Poem 'After a Phrase Abandoned by Wallace Stevens.'"

Washington Post Book World, February 10, 1980, p. 11; January 3, 1988, Bruce Bawer, review of The Sunset Maker.

Western Humanities Review, summer, 1974.

Yale Review, June, 1960, pp. 589-598; summer, 1985, Richard Wertime, review of Platonic Scripts, p. 602; autumn, 1987, p. 124; spring, 1988.