The Orchard Will Bloom: Four Arguments on the Poems of Donald Justice
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Schlegel, Christian B.
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CitationSchlegel, Christian B. 2020. The Orchard Will Bloom: Four Arguments on the Poems of Donald Justice. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThe American poet Donald Justice (1925-2004) is read only in limited ways, and critics misapprehend his work and influence. This study attempts to remedy the situation. In the Introduction, I develop Garrison Keillor’s notion of a Good Poet, to show one (parochial and corrigible) means of making sense of Justice. I elaborate on his penchant for letting words rhyme with themselves: a superficially flatfooted strategy that yields important results for him—rendering ideas aspirationally self-evident, just so. In Chapter 1, I trace Justice’s “adaptiveness,” in which his poems repurpose other texts and create a dynamic relation of teacher-to-student, master-to-apprentice. The (im)possibilities of adaptation become the subjects of his indebted poems. In Chapter 2, I ask whether Justice’s indebtedness necessarily makes him a conservative poet, then challenge the readings that self-styled poet-conservatives perform on him. I counter with Justice’s proper conservatism, a Burkean strain he shares with Richard Wilbur and Jane Kenyon. In Chapter 3, I place Justice within the context of poetic bureaucracy, in which he worked for decades. I show that Justice puzzled through the relationship of lyrics to office culture and the “bullshit work” it demands. Like Justice, James Tate, Rita Dove, and Alice Notley reimagine bureaucratic life, in utopian, or incrementalist-reformist, or revolutionary terms. In Chapter 4, I turn from Justice to his wife, Jean Ross Justice, and her literary career. Ross Justice’s stories develop a problematic of career and care, by which writers achieve “outward” renown through capital conversions (symbolic to financial to social), while their caregivers toil to support these conversions. I show that Justice’s editorship of “obliviated” poets displaces the care he might otherwise have expended on a partner like Ross Justice. And I argue that Jean’s publishing timeline coincides with a new era for poetic careers—our own. Today, an other-directed, couple-based caring structure is overlain with self-care. The poet must treat herself well: to achieve more, to become better than good. Finally, in an Epilogue, I recapitulate the four themes of the dissertation, via a selection of notebook entries published late in Justice’s life.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37365721
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