Poetry. Poets. Life. Art. Does it matter? The faith that it just may. Twenty years ago Dana Gioia wrote, “Can Poetry Matter?,” an essay putting to task the academic subculture of contemporary American poetry. The allegations and possibilities still ring true. The essay contains much to consider in regards to the world of poetry and on a larger scale the role “art” plays in the human spirit. With the publication of his fourth volume, Pity the Beautiful, Gioia visits Bookshop Santa Cruz on Tuesday, July 10th, at 7:30 pm.
There are three tenets from “Can Poetry Matter?” that resonate. The first being that poetry should reach out to the general public by appearing alongside news, fiction, memoir, op-eds, etc. The idea being that if poetry matters, then it should be considered right alongside all the rest that we read and consider. And so this blog post. Which makes me wonder if the proliferation of blogging and internet culture can create the world Gioia described in the essay where poetry once again reaches out beyond the university and steps into our everyday lives?
The second idea is that poets should use poetry readings as events to share poetry that matters, not only their own work, but poems by other writers as well; will Gioia follow his own prescription and read and discuss the work of others? He just may since Pity the Beautiful does contain Gioia’s translations of two Italian poets, Mario Luzi and Bartolo Cattafi, and those poems are some of the most captivating in the volume. If Gioia discusses the work of these two poets along with other works he deems of interest, that would be a new take on the “traditional” poetry event!
The third point is that poetry reviews should be more than love fests. I don’t know how to take this one since the first two reviews of Gioia’s latest poetry volume on his website are love fests written by writers—examples of the very type of review that he criticizes in “Does Poetry Matter?” Hummmm. But perhaps the reviews are justifiably favorable since there is a lot to admire in the volume.
Pity the Beautiful plays with form and meter in a contemporary style, so that the poems have a cadence and heart beat that resonates with poets of the past. I thought I heard Tennyson’s hoof beats rambling on through, but more so Frost’s beat of the everyday spectacular.
But I don’t know if that is enough. There is sarcasm, irony, and wit. In Gioia’s poems the gods have become freeways and our holy spaces shopping malls. In “Haunting” we get a good old time ghost story that ends with a sweet twist. There is sadness over a friend’s inability to find meaning and lasting love. There is sadness over the loss of a child. But is this enough?
You’ll have to read Gioia’s latest collection and attend Tuesday’s reading in order to find out.