Poet Michael Juster sheds new light on Horace, using the Web as a resource
ONLINE COLUMN: Web Savvy
Published: January 6, 2009
There are probably thousands of poets on the Web who recognize the name Michael Juster. Many who have workshopped poems at top Internet boards have received the benefit of Juster's feedback usually offered in succinct polite critiques. For Juster, the old axiom 'what goes around comes around' holds true. As he labored over translating the Roman poet Horace's satires, Juster realized how valuable Internet workshops can be. "I was one of the first online moderators of a poetry workshop and as much as I have benefitted from suggestions from others, the editing skills I have developed after having posted analyses of thousands of poems online has allowed me to turn those skills on my own work, which has made me a much better poet."
That workshop Juster mentioned is Eratosphere, one of the top poetry communities on the Web. Richard Wilbur, Rhina Espaillat and many other notable poets have commented on poetry and poems there. Poets affiliated with the Westchester Poetry Conference and the Powow River Poets hang out there. Eratosphere traditionally prioritized formal poetry, and the board has already become part of the development of that genre nationally. The synergy created by the convergence of so many gifted writers was an asset to Juster as he grappled with a Roman poet who lived thousands of years ago yet still has an impact on poets today. Juster's book, The Satires of Horace has been published by the University of Pennsylvania Press.
Juster said the Internet was indispensable as he worked on the manuscript. Translating poetry often requires a different process than creating your own verse. "My advisors on the Latin live all over the world, and it was a great thing to get a quick email response to a question," he explained. "I also workshopped some sections online at Eratosphere and Gazebo, and some of the suggestions I received there were important."
Having instant information definitely helped. "The Web was also instrumental in checking interpretations that differed from past efforts," Juster said. "For instance, when I was concerned that some of the adjectives used in past translations to describe olive oil might not be right, I discovered through the Web there's a wonderful and scholarly fellow named Paul Lepisto at the Olive Oil Institute in Italy. He walked me through a lot of technical detail about olive oil. The Web also allowed me to check publishers to see who might be interested in a translation of Horace. Penn turned out to be a great fit for me—the press is even run by a classicist!"
The press also uses the Web a bit more astutely than many other university publishing houses. The Web site is well-designed with a lot of sticky content, and the blog 'Penn Press Log' keeps readers abreast of new titles and developments in the literary world.
For many writers the Web is a love fest, but there are a few drawbacks. Asked about the impact of the Internet on the written word, Juster said for poetry, it's been "a mixed bag." He pointed to the 'come-one-come-all' approach. "There are a ton of Web sites where the culture only allows comments like 'loved your poem—I've been there too.' These sites have tended to persuade many would-be poets that they are writing well, when in fact they are writing easy sloppy poetry. On the other hand, the best sites on the Web have given many poets—particularly shy people like me and those who live in remote areas—a chance to expose their work to the kind of thoughtful and rigorous analyses that help take it to a higher level." He points to poets like Rose Kelleher and Aaron Poochigian as "examples of very good poets who took it up a notch or two through their time on the Web."
|There's irony in the fact that 21st century technology helped bring a new perspective to a poet who was born around 65 BCE, even if he was the most famous lyric poet of his time. Horace's words have been translated before—mainly his odes. But Juster chose to work on the satires, and he focused on rendering the Latin to English in light verse. The result is an incredible work that falls pleasingly on the ear, and the verses often remind us how little mankind has changed over the millennia. For example in Satire 2, Juster segues Horace's descriptive into a narrative with skilled syntax: "The gangs of Syrian flute-girls, the shills/who sell exotic potions for our ills,/the bums, the actresses, the silly twits/and others of that ilk, indulge in fits/of grief about the late Tigellius/because, of course, he was so generous."|
Juster came to know the long-dead poet well as he crafted a language that was also long dead into contemporary English. 'The New Criterion' published a section of Juster's translations and asked him to do a short essay about the project. Juster called the essay, 'Inhabiting Horace.' He said, "When you translate other poets well, you have to try to inhabit their souls and think about how they would express themselves in English on many levels—meaning, sound, sense, rhythm and so on."
Juster turned a bit of satire on himself. "I did get carried away and tried to persuade one editor who ran an excerpt to start my bio, 'Like Horace, A. M. Juster is overweight, bald and rather lazy.' But the editor was too nice to do that."
The editor was fair. I met Michael Juster at a poetry reading in Washington. The person is very different from that self-characterization. And judging by the sheer number of words Juster's had published on the Web and in print, the adjective 'lazy' is the last one I'd think to apply to him. Juster has used the best of the past and tools from the present to bring ancient words to life, growing a base of readers and supporters via the Web as well as by publishing in print and networking in person. That approach works for any genre and Juster's success is an excellent indicator of the opportunity available to writers today—as long as we're not really lazy.
Poetry Conference at Westchester University
The Powow River Poets (Newburyport Art Association)
Publisher Page for 'The Satires of Horace' at University of Pennsylvania Press
Penn Press Log (Publisher Blog)
--Posted Jan. 6, 2009
In our next Web Savvy, we explore what's ahead for writers in 2009. How will
layoffs at major media outlets and a difficult economy impact your writing business,
and how can you strategize to meet those challenges?
Florida journalist Kay B. Day has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. The author of two books, she has written for The Christian Science Monitor, United Press International, The Florida Times-Union and Sky News. To read Kay's other Web Savvy columns about writing for the Web, click here.