A.M. Juster is a poet, translator, and essayist. He’s published nine of his own poetry collections, as well as translations of John Milton, Horace, Tibullus, and others. His works also include The Billy Collins Experience and Saint Aldhelm’s Riddles. A poetry collection, The Secret Language of Women, won the Richard Wilbur Award, and he’s received the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award three times, two honorary degrees, and the Willis Barnstone Translation Prize.
In other words, he’s a presence in the poetry world. If you follow him on Twitter, you discover something else. Juster is a champion for poetry, constantly promoting the work of other poets. And he’s a kind and generous man, welcoming every new follower individually — and helping to broaden the online poetry community in the process.
His ninth and latest poetry collections, Wonder & Wrath, demonstrates his mastery of a number of forms in formal poetry, including just enough free verse to provide a contrast. He writes of figures in Greek mythology, and he bids farewell to television’s Mr. Wizard (if you’re not old enough to know Mr. Wizard, the science show aired from 1951 to 1965). He describes nature and the seasons, and he has a bit of fun with Shakespeare in “A Midsummer Night’s Hangover.” He calls himself a fanboy of poet Kay Ryan, and he proposes a number of expressions as possible cliches (You can call off your dogs, / but your cats will ignore you).
One poem struck home personally, because I understood every line of it. You might first think it’s a political poem, until you realize it’s about the aging process. Or is it?
Far reaches of my realm are livid now—
more like inflamed. I missed the early signs
of weakness: slow corrosion in the walls;
corrupted arteries, and mute contempt
for arms of centralized authority.
New carnage comes without a warning shot
as traitors slide past lines of my defenses.
Appeals for calm embolden sleeper cells;
Cascades of new betrayals take their toll.
I cannot crack the code. What makes them choose
As insurrection pairing suicide
With slaughter? Isn’t there some formula
For peace? Perhaps a frank exchange of views?
Reports pile higher. I ignore the news.
Juster also includes a number of poems he’s translated — East African proverbs, the French of Rimbaud and Rilke, medieval and Elizabethan Latin, and Chinese. Perhaps to make sure he himself avoids getting too academic (five languages!), he also includes two translations from the English — poems “translated from the English” of Billy Collins and Bob Dylan. (After consideration, that might be more necessary than I first realized.)
Wonder & Wrath is a collection of 48 poems that are alternately serious and playful, and sometimes both in the same poem. This is poetry written by a man who’s mastered it, enjoys it, has fun with it, and keeps being surprised by what poetry can do. And I’m still chuckling over translating Billy Collins and Bob Dylan from the English.
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish