"He is one of our finest poets, " Anthony Hecht has said of Donald Justice. Winner most recently of a 1996 Lannan Literary Award, Justice has been the recipient of almost every contemporary grant and prize for poetry, from the Lamont to the Bollingen and the Pulitzer. The present volume replaces his 1980 Selected Poems and contains, in addition, poems from the last 15 years.
In 1959, Justice's first collection won the Lamont Prize; 20 years later his Selected Poems won the Pulitzer. In 1987, The Sunset Maker (poems and other works) appeared and A Donald Justice Reader, another selection of mostly poems, followed in 1991. This collection features works culled from six previous titles, plus a dozen uncollected poems, among them a pantoum and sonnet (among the 15 poems labeled new are three from Reader, with only minor changes here). Meter and rhyme are featured throughout. If not using--often irregularly--a classic form, Justice improvises one, melding language, meaning and rhythm in a seemingly seamless whole. A haunting four-part sequence, My South, epitomizes his work: two ``sonnets'' don't rhyme, two only irregularly; one has 13 lines; meters vary. Small revisions of 1991's South are telling, e.g., part 4, ``On the Train,'' now includes the lines ``unless/ We should pass down dim corridors again,'' which give a wider, mysterious meaning to the original, specific phrase ``darkened aisle.'' Until we see a complete collected works, this is probably the definitive Justice.