Around the Scuttlebutt – Brief Poems by A. M. Juster

A. M. Juster (born 1956) is the pen name of Michael James Astrue, an American lawyer who has worked as a public servant at the highest levels, holding a position as associate counsel to two Republican presidents (Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush), then as general counsel to the Department of Health and Human Services, and finally as Commissioner of the Social Security Administration from 2007-2013. In the private sector, he practiced law and was as a senior executive at several biotechnology companies. For the purpose of this post, I prefer to deal with the poet (A. M. Juster) rather than the political appointee (Michael Astrue) although an informative and entertaining article by Paul Mariani in the religious journal First Things skilfully explicates both sides of an intriguing personality.

A. M. Juster was the first moderator for Eratosphere, the largest on-line site for formal poetry and his work may be associated with what has come to be called The New Formalism. He has won the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award three times, most recently in 2008. My own favourite sonnet of his was one shortlisted for the award: Weldon Kees in Mexico. He also won the Richard Wilbur Award in 2002 for his collection, The Secret Language of Women. His books of translations include Longing for Laura (2001) a translation of Petrarch, The Satires of Horace (2008) and Saint Aldhelm’s Riddles (2015). Recent books include Sleaze & Slander (2016), and The Billy Collins Experience (2016). His book in progress is The Elegies of Maximianus, due for publication later this year.

 

TWITTER – @amjuster 

For a Twitter account, that of A. M. Juster is particularly lively, engaging and provocative. He explains his interest thus: I reluctantly dipped my toe into Twitter (@amjuster) a year ago, and I like its concision and reach. I am not an academic or a networker, so it exposed me to a small but interesting group of poets and scholars. He tweets regularly, constantly offering a “warm Twitter welcome” to those who have joined, like a benevolent party-goer happy to see other like-minded souls in attendance. He is an advocate for the poets whose work he admires, promoting the work of such poets as A. E. Stallings, Rhina Espaillat and Kay Ryan and campaigning for a Nobel Prize for Richard Wilbur. He is also a trenchant and persistent critic of those who he sees as undermining the craft and the reach of poetry. Ben Lerner, Christian Bok and Ezra Pound are often subject to his acerbic wit. Of those poets who use Twitter, he is certainly one worth following.

 

AROUND THE SCUTTLEBUTT

According to Wikipedia: Scuttlebutt in slang usage means rumor or gossip, deriving from the nautical term for the cask used to serve water (or, later, a water fountain). The term corresponds to the colloquial concept of a water cooler in an office setting, which at times becomes the focus of congregation and casual discussion… Since sailors exchanged gossip when they gathered at the scuttlebutt for a drink of water, scuttlebutt became Navy slang for gossip or rumours.

In the concluding poem below, a mock epitaph entitled Candid Headstone, with its concealed pun in the third line, the scuttlebutt is regarded as a poetic approach and the “bile and bluster” mentioned in disparaging terms is, in the shorter poems (and in many of the best of the longer poems in Sleaze and Slander), refined by rhyme and meter to a humorous and a caustic stance.This is evident in the translations of Martial below and in the Martial post. It is also evident in the brief poems which follow. Satire is one aspect of this approach. The Billy Collins poems, collected in The Billy Collins Experience, are a remarkable act of ventriloquism. Another poem meshes, like a frenetic disc jockey with his mixer, Eliot’s Prurock, Stevens’ blackbird and the famous red wheelbarrow of Williams. As well as Martial, there are translations of Horace, Erasmus, Ausonias and Luxorius, all rendered in a bilious American idiom. As for the two poems from the Middle Welsh – Poem of the Prick and Poem of the Pussy – suffice to say that the great Australian erotic poet, A. D. Hope, would be smiling in his grave. Rhina Espaillat put it best when she wrote in Light He doesn’t use satire to settle scores with “Them,” but to attack, with self-deprecating humor, the traits, customs and practices that need attacking in all of us.

 

Brief Poems by A. M. Juster

from Martialed Arguments 

1.28

To say Acerra stinks of day-old booze is wrong!
Each drink is freshened all night long!

***

1.47

Diaulus was a physician;
now he’s a mortician.
The undertaking’s the same –
it just has a new name.

***

2.20

Paul is reciting poems he buys.
At least he doesn’t plagiarize.

***

3.18

Dear Max:

Your reading opened with a whine
about your laryngitis,
but since your alibi was fine
why reread on and incite us.

***

3.79

Sex with Sertorius is anticlimactic;
rapid withdrawal is his typical tactic.

***

8.35

Since you both share the same approach to life
(a lousy husband and a lousy wife),
I am bewildered it
is not a better fit.

***

10.43

Your seventh wife, Phil, is buried in your field.
Nobody gets from land, Phil, that kind of yield.

***

11.97

Dear Telesilla,

Four times in one night is what I can do.
Damn! Once in four years is plenty with you.

***

All poems © A.M. Juster. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Further translations of Martial by A. M. Juster, together with the original Latin, are available on the Brief Poems Martial post.

 

 

Night Snow

I wondered why the blankets were so lacking,
And then I saw my window brightly glow.
With night long gone, I knew we had deep snow,
For through the calm the bamboo trees were cracking.

Translated from the Chinese of Po-Chu-i.

***

Rationale

Poems are best
when compressed.

I detest
the rest.

***

A Stern Warning to Canada

If you want peace,
withdraw your geese.

***

Mismatch

I kept hoping she would come alone.
She’s a gem, but he’s a kidney stone.

***

A Consolation of Aging

Despite my thinning hair,
no barber cuts his rate.
At least the airlines care
and do not charge by weight.

***

Disclaimer

Despite what’s promised when you marry,
actual results may vary.

***

From the Workplace

Your Midlife Crisis

You found yourself, but at an awful cost.
We liked you better when you were lost.

To My Ambitious Colleague

Your uphill climb will never stop;
scum always rises to the top.

Concession to My Colleague

I know that you will win in time;
the rising sewage lifts all slime.

***

Self-portrait at Fifty

None of this can be denied:
crabby, flabby, full of pride;
hypertensive, pensive, snide;
slowly, growing terrified.

***

Candid Headstone

Here lies what’s left of Michael Juster,
Failure filled with bile and bluster:
Regard the scuttlebutt as true.
Dance on the grave; most others do.

***

All poems © A.M. Juster. Reprinted by permission of the author.

 

LINKS

The A. M. Juster website.

An interview with A. M. Juster on political poetry.

A brief interview on the Headstuff site.

Another brief interview with an audio link.

Paul Mariani on the double life of A. M. Juster/Michael J. Astrue.

Introducing Mike Juster by Rhina Espaillat.

Some interesting comments on the Evidence Anecdotal site.

A review of The Secret Language of Women.

A review of Saint Aldhelm’s Riddles.

Brooke Clark reviews Sleaze and Slander.

A brief review of Sleaze and Slander.

Another brief review of Sleaze and Slander.

Patrick Kurp reviews Sleaze and Slander and The Billy Collins Experience.

A review of The Billy Collins Experience.

 

 

All poems © A.M. Juster. Reprinted by permission of the author.