Monday, January 4, 2016

Monday Muse: California's New Poet Laureate

I believe that poetry is for everyone.
It is not a remote or intellectual art. Poetry is
our most concise, expressive, and memorable way
of using words, and it can play a powerful role
in schools and civic life.
~ Dana Gioia*

Dana Gioia is California's newly named Poet Laureate. Successor to Juan Felipe Herrera (2012-2014), Gioia's recent appointment makes him California's tenth state poet. His term officially began December 4, 2015.

Information about the laureateship is found in my 2010 post about Herrera's predecessor, Carol Muske-Dukes, who served from 2008 through 2011. (See a list of all of California's Poets Laureate on the state page of the Library of Congress Website.)

During his two-year term, which comes with an annual $5,000 stipend, Gioia serves as the state's public advocate for poetry. In addition to giving readings and promoting poetry by "visit[ing] as much of the state as possible", Gioia says he wants his laureateship to be "a symbol of the importance of art and the imagination in our public culture."**

* * * * *

. . . A society that loses its ability to hear and value poetry
is a diminished thing, a culture that has lost part
of its full human potential. . . .***

California-born Dana Gioia, sometimes described as "the business poet" (he holds a MBA from Stanford University and was an executive at General Foods Corp.), is a poet, translator, critic, widely published essayist, memoirist, literary anthologist, and librettist. His most recent poetry collection in print is Pity the Beautiful (Graywolf Press, 2012). His other books are Interrogations at Noon (Graywolf, 2001), recipient of the American Book Award, and The Gods of Winter (Graywolf, 1991). His Daily Horoscope (Graywolf, 1986) was Gioia's debut collection.

Forthcoming is 99 Poems: New & Selected (Graywolf Press, March 2016).

Gioia's volumes of poetry-related criticism are Disappearing Ink: Poetry at the End of Print Culture (Graywolf Press, 2004), Barrier of a Common Language: An American Looks at Contemporary British Poetry (University of Michigan Press, 2003), and Can Poetry Matter? Essays on Poetry and American Culture (Graywolf, 1992; 10th Anniversary Ed., 2002), finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award. Gioia was the editor of the anthology California Poetry: From the Gold Rush to the Present (Heyday, 2003), and his work The Catholic Writer Today (2014) was the first in the Wiseblood Books series "Wiseblood Essays in Contemporary Culture".

Gioia's translations encompass the German, (Rainer Maria Rilke), Italian (Mario Luzi Valerio Magrelli, Eugenio Montale), and Romanian (Nina Cassian) languages. A number of his own poems have been translated into Spanish.

At their broadest, Gioia's themes encompass sense of place, love, the imagination, memory and remembrance, mystery and the supernatural, faith, culture, beauty, and stories and songs. Within these can be found Gioia's treatments of such subjects as human frailty (sin), redemption (virtue, grace), prayer, prophecy, aging and illness, loss and grief, regret, and the natural world. Critics remark on Gioia's technical skill (he is adept with traditional forms), elegant line, and lyricism; readers, on his ability to render the abstract tangible. He can be intense, satiric, ironic, and humorous as well. (See the interview at Lunch Ticket for Gioia's insights into his own poetry writing.)

Below are a few lines from Gioia's poems that I especially like:

[. . .]Blessed is this shortest day that makes us long for light.
Blessed is the love that in losing we discover.
~ from "Prayer at Winter Solstice" in Pity the Beautiful

The world [...] articulates itself
in sunlight, leaves, and shadows. [. . .]
~ from "Words"  in Interrogations at Noon

So much of what we live goes on inside—
The diaries of grief, [...]
[...]What we conceal
Is always more than what we dare confide.
Think of the letters that we write our dead.
~ "Unsaid" in Interrogations at Noon

Gioia's poems have appeared in such literary publications as America: The National Catholic ReviewThe Hudson Review, The New CriterionThe New Yorker, NewsWeek magazine, PloughsharesPoetry, Rattle, The Southern Review, The Threepenny ReviewVirginia Quarterly Review, and The Writer's Almanac; his essays have been published in The Atlantic, The Boston GlobeThe Catholic Writer Today,  First Things magazine, and Knowledge@Wharton, among many other periodicals.

Among Gioia's honors are the Aiken-Taylor Award in Modern American Poetry from Sewanee Review (Sewanee Today, 2014), the Laetare Medal from Notre Dame (2010), the American Book Award (2002, for Interrogations at Noon), and the Presidential Citizens Medal (2008).

Gioia is the Judge Widney professor of poetry and public culture at the University of Southern California. He was the chair of the National Endowment for the Arts from 2003 to 2009. During his years at the NEA, he helped to launch several national projects, including Poetry Out Loud, a recitation contest for high school students; Big Read, which promotes community reading; and "Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience", a project for returning veterans and their families about which the Operation Homecoming documentary was made.


Photo Credit: Jay R. Hart (Gioia is pictured at the California Arts Council's 2014 Poetry Out Loud State Finals at the Capitol.)

All Poetry Excerpts © Dana Gioia

* Quoted from California Arts Council Press Release, "Governor Brown Appoints Dana Gioia as California Poet Laureate", December 4, 2015

** Quoted from The Press Democrat article (link below)

*** Quoted from "Paradigms Lost: Interview with Gloria Brame" at Dana Gioia's Website

Alexei Koseff, "Dana Gioia Named California Poet Laureate", The Sacramento Bee, December 4, 2015

Hillel Italie, "Poet and Former NEA Chair Dana Gioia Named California Poet Laureate", US News (AP), December 4, 2015

Priska Neely, "California's New Poet Laureate Wants to Preach the Power of Poetry Across the State", KPCC, December 7, 2015

Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies (USC), "USC's Dana Gioia Named California Poet Laureate", December 7, 2015 (USC News Feature by Andrew Good)

Irene Hsu, "Stanford Alumnus Dana Gioia Appointed Poet Laureate of California", The Stanford Daily, December 10, 2015

Diane Peterson, "Santa Rosa's Dana Gioia Named California's Poet Laureate", The Press Democrat, December 10, 2015

Dana Gioia Profiles Online: Academy of American Poets, Front Porch RepublicGraywolf PressThe Poetry Foundation, Poetry Out Loud, University of Southern California

Also see: Joseph Wakelee-Lynch's interviews "Disturbing Arts: A Conversation with Dana Gioia" in LMU Magazine (Summer 2014) and "Dana Gioia on Art, Beauty and Faith", LMU Magazine (February 2014); Michael Passafiume's interview "Dana Gioia, Poet" at Lunch Ticket (2012); Mary Kenagy Mitchell's "A Conversation with Dana Gioia" at Image Journal (Issue 73); "Mr. Gioia Goes to Washington" in Response (2004); Heidi Benson's article at SF Gate, "Who is Dana Gioia?" (2003); and Susan Stamberg's "An Interview with NEA Chief, Poet Dana Gioia" (2003) at NPR.

Dana Gioia Poems Online: "The Angel with the Broken Wing", "The Apple Orchard", "The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet", "Majority", "Pity the Beautiful" (Pity the Beautiful), "Litany", "The Lost Garden", "Summer Storm", "Unsaid", "Words" (Interrogations at Noon), "Money", "The Next Poem", "Planting a Sequoia", "Prayer", "Rough Country" (The Gods of Winter), "The Burning Ladder", "California Hills in August", "The Country Wife", "Insomnia", ""Sunday Night in Santa Rosa" (Daily Horoscope), All at Dana Gioia's Website; "Words" and "Prophecy", Both at Academy of American Poets; "Becoming a Redwood", "Cruising with the Beachboys", "Cuckoos", "Elegy with Surrealist Proverbs as Refrain", "Equations of the Light", "In Chandler Country", "Insomnia", "Maze without a Minotaur", "My Confessional Sestina", "My Secret Life", "Night Watch", "Pity the Beautiful", "Reunion", "Speaking of Love", "Special Treatments Ward", "Thanks for Remembering Us", "The Angel with the Broken Wing", "The Country Wife", "The End", "The End of the World", "The Gods of Winter", "The Journey, the Arrival, and the Dream", "The Letter", "The Next Poem", "The Present", and "The Sunday News", All at Poetry Foundation; "Becoming a Redwood", "The End of the World", "Insomnia", and "Pity the Beautiful", All at Poetry Out Loud; "California Hills in August", "Guide to the Other Gallery", "Insomnia", "The Sunday News", "Veterans' Cemetery", "Accomplice", "Corner Table", and "Unsaid", All at PoemTree; "Entrance" and "Thanks for Remembering Us", Both at Library of Congress; "The Angel with the Broken Wing" at The Jesuit Post; "Prayer" at America: The National Catholic Review (Audio Available of Poem Set to Music); "Meet Me at the Lighthouse", "Hot Summer Night (Jazz Songs for Helen Sung)", "Film Noir", and "After a Line of Neruda", All at VQR Online; "Words" at World Literature Today; "Finding a Box of Family Letters" and "Planting a Sequoia", Both at The Writer's Almanac; "Money" at Your Daily Poem; "Long Distance" at Poem of the Week; "Insomnia" at Genius; "California Hills in August" and "Progress Report", Both at San Diego Reader; "Summer Storm" at The Gladdest Thing; "Pity the Beautiful" at YouTube (Gioia Reads); "The Stars Now Rearrange Themselves...", "Words", "Summer Storm", and "Unsaid", All at NewsWeek Magazine; "Rough Country" at Shirt Of Flame; "The Litany" at Rattle; "The Angel with the Broken Wing" at How a Poem Happens; "Reunion" at American Life in Poetry; "Guide to the Other Gallery" at Atavic Poetry

Also see the list of Dana Gioia poems at PoemHunter and at Life, Dreams and Reality.

Dana Gioia Translations Online: "Entrance", "On Approaching Forty", "Orchestra", and "Especially in Weeping", All from Daily Horoscope (1986) at Dana Gioia's Website

Dana Gioia, "Hearing from Poetry's Audience", The Atlantic Monthly, 1992 (This essay first appeared in Poetry Review (United Kingdom), Spring 1992.)

Dana Gioia, "Poetry as Enchantment" in The Dark Horse Magazine , Summer 2015

Dana Gioia, "Can Poetry Matter?", The Atlantic Monthly, May 1991 (The essay made Gioia's name nationally known.)

Dana Gioia's "On the Importance of Reading and Literacy" is on video on Gioia's Interviews page. Also see "Re: What is Poetry?" at The Big Think (scroll to end of page).

Eddie North-Hager, "Gioia Honored for his Poetic Prowess", USC News, February 4, 2014

David J. Rothman, "'Pity the Beautiful': Dana Gioia's Well-Crafted Poems of the Passionate Inner Life", Book Review,, July 2012

Diane Scharper, "'Pity the Beautiful: Poems', by Dana Gioia", Book Review, National Review, July 2012

Susan Balee, "'Pity the Beautiful' | Dana Gioia: An Acknowledged Legislator of the Word", Book Review, Wild River Review, April 2012

Leslie Monsour, "O Dark, Dark, Dark, amid the Blaze of Noon: The Poetry of Dana Gioia", Book Review, AbleMuse, Winter 2002

Arthur Mortensen, "'Interrogations At Noon': A Brief Look", Book Review, Expansive Poetry & Music Online, May 2001

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