Willie VerSteeg discusses the epigraph, formal technique, & Donald Justice


KJB: Like the epigraph that opens the piece, there is a diffusion of things seen in this poem. If the light that Justice speaks of conveys happiness, the speaker in "Porch Season” seems to diffuse the scene with a tone that is almost-sentimental ambivalence. The dusk “tumbles in”, the flower petals get stuck like “misplaced romance”, even the boy ignores the speaker. Yet, the ending carries readers to a sense of relief, which can quite easily be associated - though isn’t parallel to - happiness. Was this poem an attempt to rectify these two similar emotions with one another, or to hold a mirror up to Justice’s concept of happiness?

WV: I think I first discovered Justice's poem in this nice little piece from John Jeremiah Sullivan. I owe a great deal to the source of the epigraph, which both formally and tonally inspired "Porch Season." Though the epigraph excerpt doesn't show it, the full content of Justice's poem is in that same form which utilizes rime riche for the 2nd & 4th lines and the 5th & 6th lines. I couldn't for the life of me find a name for the form but I did learn that Justice wrote in it frequently, and it seemed so odd to me (especially in the final couplet of the stanza, where the repeated words can be really loud and strange) that it stuck with me until I felt compelled to steal it. Maybe some lingering guilt from that theft is what moved me to use an epigraph (which I almost never do), or maybe it was a bid to legitimize an honest-to-god rhyming poem in 2015 by putting Justice's name beside it (and not just any rhyming poem, but one that just uses the same words—it's not even clever!). Either way, I didn't fully realize the tonal similarities until I actually put the epigraph on the page. I think you're right to hone in on "diffusion" as the shade of familiarity between the two. I'm taken particularly with the third line of the epigraph—"It is like happiness, when we are happy"—in how it speaks to that notion of diffusing emotion, how it seems both fleeting and random, but also somehow all-encompassing in its moment. I have habit of trying to write from or toward contentment, though the venture has a tendency to get mucked up along the way. This poem is no exception, starting with such contentment in mind: the speaker and his family enjoying the new weather of early spring on the porch. Of course, then someone like Tom walks into the picture.

Read "Porch Season"