Aug. 30, 2004: ODE TO A DRESSMAKER’S DUMMY (Donald Justice)

Dear Readers,

Three connections to Iowa today: A New York Times story featured Frank
Conroy, the director of the writing program there; a review of Donald
Justice’s collected poems mentioned his teaching there, and I got an
e-mail from a poet I e-accosted after becoming an instant fan of his
latest book (which will certainly feature in future editions of MV),
discovering that he just relocated from Cambridge to Iowa City.

But let’s stick with Justice, since I am morbidly pursuing his poems just
after he died earlier this month (prior to which I knew the name but
nothing else). First an intro paragraph to the Times review, then a poem
which is his most anthologized. What does anyone think of that opening
word? -mjl

"Is it better to be great, or to be a great example? In most
artistic
arenas, the answer is easy — who wouldn’t rather be Laurence Olivier than
someone known for playing a convincing butler? If you’re a poet, though,
this question isn’t so simple. As general knowledge about poetry has
faded, so has our confidence about what might constitute a ”great” poem
in the first place. Anyone trying to make a broad statement about poetry
is forced to survey a crowd of self-promoting aspirants — the New
Formalists, the Langpo refugees, the Post-Avant — which is probably why
contemporary American anthologies often read like plays with a hundred
parts, all small. And when so many scenes have been set aside for cooks
and clowns and angry shopkeepers, would we even recognize a leading man if
he showed up to audition?"

ODE TO A DRESSMAKER’S DUMMY

Papier-mache body; blue-and-black cotton jersey cover. Metal stand.
Instructions included.

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