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Donald Justice

hqdefaultOn August 12, 1925, Donald Justice was born in Miami, Florida.

A graduate of the University of Miami, he attended the universities of North Carolina, Stanford, and Iowa. His books include New and Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 1995); A Donald Justice Reader (1991); The Sunset Maker(1987), a collection of poems, stories and a memoir;Selected Poems (1979), for which he won the Pulitzer Prize;Departures (1973); Night Light (1967); and The Summer Anniversaries (1959), which received the Academy’s Lamont Poetry Selection.

Justice won the Bollingen Prize in Poetry in 1991, and received grants in poetry from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. From 1997 to 2003, he served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. During his life, he held teaching positions at Syracuse University, the University of California at Irvine, Princeton University, the University of Virginia, and the University of Iowa. From 1982 until his retirement in 1992, he taught at the University of Florida, Gainesville.

After retiring, he lived in Iowa City with his wife, Jean Ross, until his death on August 6, 2004. (poets.org)

I loved this poem because a) it was SO simple, and b) it really stirred my imagination. I could just picture him stopping for a cup of coffee at a truck stop at 4:30 a.m. and scribbling it down on a napkin, wondering all the time if that person were still up and what they were doing — I wondered the same thing!

* * * * *

Poem to Be Read at 3 A.M.

Excepting the diner
On the outskirts
The town of Ladora
At 3 A.M.
Was dark but
For my headlights
And up in
One second-story room
A single light
Where someone
Was sick or
Perhaps reading
As I drove past
At seventy
Not thinking
This poem
Is for whoever
Had the light on

* * * * * 

Poems about a small connection between two people in the void have always resonated well with me. Headlights on the highway passing a solitary room light on. The smallest possible acknowledgment of another person invites imagination, and in this case, poetry. It’s like when you catch a stranger’s eye in public, but as soon as you saw one another, you continue onwards about your business, with barely a passing thought.

I wonder if whoever inspired Donald Justice to write this poem ever ended up reading it. It doesn’t much matter if it doesn’t, but it would certainly cause the poem to come full circle.

Of note in this poem is the light imagery, with its stark contrasts between the shadows of the night and the light of a room being passed by headlights. A very vivid picture of two dots of light crossing in the night materializes in my head with this poem, and it’s somehow very reassuring, knowing that even in the dead of night, somewhere, someone else is out there, and we are not, in fact, alone. (Christopher Wallingford, A Poem A Day)

On Poetry and Writing


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