Friday, August 8, 2014

Dana Gioia: An Impressive Guy (Part III)

I try to be a cultured guy, I really do. When I read that a poet has won the Doodle Brand Endowment for Outstanding Poetry of Year I check out his or her (or whatever other gender happens to be pertinent) poetry on the net or at the library and I usually come away baffled.

Last week I went to hear poet Dana Gioia lecture and I asked in the Q & A time why when I read so many contemporary poets I had no idea what they were saying. He answered simply, "Because they're bad." He did elaborate, "They're are good poets that are difficult, such as T. S. Eliot." Gioia then went on to recite a passage from The Wasteland. "Now, you probably couldn't get everything out of that listening, but the emotion came through. And the second and third reading would be rewarded. Whereas with much modern poetry, it's an elaborate box with a difficult lock but when you open it you find nothing. We live in the wreckage of postmodernism."

Gioia said that one of his goals as a poet is to be clear. He credits his working class background and his mother's love of poetry with that goal. But many modern critics now mock the simplicity, heart and rhyme schemes that made much poetry in the past so rich (along with Eliot he quoted extensive passages from Shakespeare and Poe.) And when he got around to quoting his own poetry, I was happy to find that it was clear, thoughtful and beautiful.

So for your weekend's amusement and culture, here's the first half one of Gioia's poems from his collection "Pity the Beautiful":


The dead say little in their letters
they haven't said before.
We find no secrets, and yet
how different ever sentence sounds
heard across the years.

My father breaks my heart
simply by being so young and handsome.
He's half my age, with jet-black.
Look at him in his navy uniform
grinning beside his dive-bomber.

Come back, Dad! I want to shout.
He says he misses all of us
(though I haven't yet been born).
He writes from places I never knew he saw,
and everyone he mentions now is dead.

There is a large, long photograph
curled like a diploma - a banquet sixty years ago.
My parents sit uncomfortably
among tables of dark-suited strangers.
The mildewed paper reeks of regret.

I wonder what song the band was playing,
just out of frame, as the photographer
arranged your smiles. A waltz? A foxtrot?
Get out there on the floor and dance!
You don't have forever.

Find and read the rest of the poem, it's worth it. Which is not true of most living poets.

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