December 4, 2012


Happy the Man : Dana Gioia has the courage of his contentment (JAMES GARDNER, 11/19/12, Weekly Standard)

As contemporary poets go, Dana Gioia is a classicist. In his new collection of poems, his voice, well-modulated and never shrill, falls effortlessly into the rhythms of iambic pentameter, and occasionally into rhyme, as he explores emotions that are none the weaker for being held so fastidiously in check. Gioia, who is also a librettist and translator of Seneca's Hercules Furens, is distinguished among his contemporaries for the striking clarity of his diction: Disavowing the morbid self-referentiality of so many of today's poets, he has written poems that can usually be understood at the first approach. And, lest there be any risk of inclarity, he has the decency to provide, where needed, brief explanatory notes at the end of the volume.

To praise his clarity may not sound like much of a recommendation, but it is. Though thoroughly alive to the complexities of life--a subject that occupies his poetry as much as it does that of his contemporaries--Gioia is nevertheless so confident in the force of his message that he rarely resorts to those diversions and obscurities by which many of his contemporaries contrive not so much to conceal what they have to say as to conceal how little they have to say in the first place.

That is not the only respect in which he stands as something of an anomaly among his contemporaries. Although I would not presume to characterize his politics, I observe that he served honorably as head of the National Endowment for the Arts under George W. Bush; that--as mentioned--he writes admirably in iambic pentameter; and that his poems have appeared in the New Criter-ion and the American Arts Quarterly, two publications associated with the cultural right. Furthermore, he has worked unapologetically in corporate America, as a marketing executive at General Foods. It was only at the age of 40, two decades ago, that Gioia took up writing as a fulltime career.

And yet, as everyone knows, poets are supposed to hew to the left. True, Coleridge and Wordsworth started out as ardent defenders of the French Revolution only to end up as Tories, and e.‚ÄČe. cummings was more of a Republican than most of his admirers realize. But that was long ago. For the past few generations, the poetic establishment, like Hollywood, has been largely inhospitable to anyone on the right.

None of the great ones--Frost, Pound, Eliot, Hill, etc.--are of the Left.
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Posted by at December 4, 2012 12:29 AM

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