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Occasional Poem — Donald Justice

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Poem To Be Read At 3 am

Excepting the diner
On the outskirts
The town of Ladora
At 3 am
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

There are some things I definitely don’t like about this poem — the first being that it refers to itself as a poem. Poetry — excepting maybe hip-hop — is the most self-referential of the creative arts, and it tends to get really annoying when you see it done repeatedly, as if I need to be told that I’m reading a poem, or treating the poem like some decorative gift-box instead of an attempt at poignant self-expression.

Also, on a technical level, why is every line capitalized? And is the selected form — two and three word lines with no punctuation — really necessary to make the poem flow in the way the author wants it? Could this not just be two or three longer lines and have the same effect?

Discarding all that though, Justice has certainly created a very tiny yet evocative scene here. My favourite poems are those which do this — freeze a moment in time like a photograph, but with some sort of elocution of a grander, over-arching emotion or atmosphere which gives you goose-bumps when you read it.

One other thing to consider — is the misspelling of ‘second-story room’ intentional? You’d have to think so, and so of course the mind goes wandering along with the author into what that second story may be . . .

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Sarah P permalink
    Sunday, April 1, 2007 7:52 pm

    We all know by now that I’m not great at spelling, but just how should “second-story” be spelled?

  2. James17930 permalink
    Sunday, April 1, 2007 8:21 pm


  3. Sarah P permalink
    Sunday, April 1, 2007 8:59 pm

    While I do not discount your interpretation of “story” as a double entendre, Justice was American, and that is a commmon way of spelling the word meaning “a floor or a level of a building.” (See Mirriam Webster (an American dictionary) identifies the spelling “storey” as an alternative.

    Of more interesting importance, both definitions come from the same Latin word “historia”, which means a row of windows with pictures on them – both a level on a building, or a sequence which creates a story. Neat connection.

    Graeme suggests that the “e” was dropped in the US spelling at the same time they dropped the “u” from many British spellings, and made “re” in “er.”

  4. James17930 permalink
    Sunday, April 1, 2007 10:15 pm

    Ah yes, the Great American Grammatical Conference of 1927 ;)

    Well, it’s either double-entendre or pun or something.

  5. Monday, April 2, 2007 7:27 am

    That would make a thrilling film.

    We should make it.

    But let’s call it Space Ninjas – probably be easier for the marketing guys.

  6. James17930 permalink
    Monday, April 2, 2007 10:15 am

    The FX budget is going to be a pain on that one.

  7. pauL permalink
    Friday, April 6, 2007 11:59 am

    The poem as reference to itself is poetry, is all writing. Is language. If the word does not refer to other words, then it refers to absence. The goosebumps are the affect of the effect of language filtered through memory of language and affect. The reader does need to be reminded he is reading a poem because to read a poem is a privilege. The ability to recognize and appreciate language beyond declarative action is the great privilege of the thinking class in a post-industrial leisure society. When “the mind goes wandering along with the author into what that second story may be” it is going to and through languag, and always language.

  8. Friday, April 6, 2007 1:28 pm

    Fellas, I think we have our first line of dialogue for Space Ninjas.

  9. Scott permalink
    Monday, May 19, 2008 12:35 pm

    What city is robert Justice refering to in the poem “a poem to read at 3 am” I was thinking Iowa but i read somewhere it is not that city?

  10. James17930 permalink
    Monday, May 19, 2008 1:34 pm

    I don’t know — Iowa’s all I can find:

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