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October 23, 2002

Free Reads -- Dana Gioia

Friedrich --

Good news, as reported by Robin Pogrebin in the NYTimes: the poet Dana Gioia is a candidate to head the National Endowment for the Arts, here.

Gioia is a terrific poet and essayist who's also a man of experience (ie., not an academic but someone who's worked in the private sector), and one of the people responsible for reviving rhyming-and-rhythming poetry in recent years. His excellent website is here. Be sure to sample his poetry, and to read his classic essay "Can Poetry Matter?", here.

Sample passage from "Can Poetry Matter?"

The poetry boom has been a distressingly confined phenomenon. Decades of public and private funding have created a large professional class for the production and reception of new poetry comprising legions of teachers, graduate students, editors, publishers, and administrators. Based mostly in universities, these groups have gradually become the primary audience for contemporary verse. Consequently, the energy of American poetry, which was once directed outward, is now increasingly focused inward.

Gloria Brame did a long, two-part interview with Gioia, readable here.

If we've gotta have an NEA, best it should be headed by someone like Dana Gioia.



posted by Michael at October 23, 2002


I'm definately going to quit with this one. Have you actually read any of Gioia's poetry? It's mediocre to put it kindly. As for his criticism, his arguments not only fail to explain the post-War poets who *have* been pretty popular, he himself backed away from his arguments in his follow up to Can Poetry Matter a few years afterwards. Not to mention that I doubt very much that you could show that Gioia has had any effect whatsoever on any resurgence of form. Marilyn Hacker has epigones, who does Gioia have? What has he done besides rehash Joseph Epstein's blathering?

If the NEA really needs a rhyme-writing, academia-criticizing, hopelessly white poet to head it, the right choice would be Tom Disch, who has the merit of being a fine poet.

Posted by: Drapetomaniac on October 24, 2002 4:33 PM

drapetomaniac --

although we disagree about the quality of gioia's poetry, which i do like, we're certainly in agreement on the quality of tom disch's work. he's terrif, and i look forward to mentioning his work on this blog some day.

talented as disch is, though, i'm not sure he's shown a lot of bureaucratic or bossing skills. gioia has. he's worked in business, he's been on boards, he's good at p-r, he can manage polemics.

i'm also not sure where you get the idea that gioia has had no influence as a poet, let alone why that should be much of a reason to think of him as a good or a bad candidate to head the NEA.

as for his influence, "can poetry matter" was one of the most popular articles the atlantic ever published, he's been a teacher, a commentator for the BBC, he's a player in whatever you want to call the new rhythm-and-rhyming, classical-form-based poetry, and he helped start the west chester university summer poetry school. you may not like him or his work, but that's an impressive set of accomplishments.

i confess i don't understand your notion that a poet's poetry must be influential in order for him to be a good candidate to run the NEA. marlon brando has probably been the most influential american actor of the last 50 years, but i suspect there are plenty of actors who'd make better NEA heads than he would.


Posted by: Michael on October 24, 2002 8:39 PM

You don't understand it, all right. My point wasn't that being an influential poet was a requirement to be head of the NEA. You said he is an influential poet and I said no, not really.

You also responded to my criticism of (and reference to Gioia's later criticism of) the contents of Can Poetry Matter by saying the essay was popular. Uh, ok.

Not to mention your notions of influence and periodization (the "new" rhyming etc) are only possible with a remarkably narrow view of Anglophone poetry.

And you missed the sarcasm in my remark on Tom Disch.

Posted by: Drapetomaniac on November 25, 2002 8:09 AM

I like Gioia's criticism and poetry. You don't. Hardly seems like the end of the world, does it?

Let's see ... So far you've been insulting, snobbish, and incoherent. And let's not forget racist.

You do know that you're free to live up to your vow to quit visiting our site, don't you?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 25, 2002 10:29 PM

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