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Dana Gioia

Michael Dana Gioia (born December 24, 1950) is an American poet and critic who retired early from his career as a corporate executive at General Foods to write full-time. From January 29, 2003, until January 22, 2009, he was chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, the United States government's arts agency, and has worked to revitalize an organization that had suffered bitter controversies about the nature of grants to artists in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Gioia has sought to encourage jazz, which he calls the only uniquely American form of art, to promote reading and performance of William Shakespeare and to increase the number of Americans reading literature. Before taking the NEA post, Gioia was a resident of Santa Rosa, California, and before that, of Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.


Early years

Michael Dana Gioia—he does not use his first name and pronounces his surname "JOY-uh" — was born in Hawthorne, California, the son of Michael and Dorothy Gioia. He grew up in Hawthorne, "speaking Italian in a Mexican neighborhood," he said.[citation needed] His father was the son of immigrants from Sicily and his mother was a native Californian of Mexican heritage. He grew up amid a richness of languages: English, Italian, Spanish and the Latin of the Catholic church.

Gioia attended Junípero Serra High School in Gardena, California.[1] He received his B.A. from Stanford University in 1973, an M.A. from Harvard University in 1975, and an M.B.A. from Stanford Business School in 1977. After college, he joined General Foods Corporation and served as vice-president of marketing from 1977 to 1992. He was on the team that invented Jell-O Jigglers.[2]

In 1992, he quit to write full-time. But even when at General Foods he was writing, producing several books of poetry. He won the Frederick Bock Award for poetry in 1986. His 1991 poetry collection The Gods of Winter won the 1992 Poets' Prize. Gioia is classed as one of the "New Formalists", who write in traditional forms and have declared that a return to rhyme and more fixed meters is the new avant-garde.

From 1971 to 1973, Gioia was editor of Sequoia Magazine and then its poetry editor from 1975 to 1977. From 1977 to 1979, he was literary editor of Inquiry Magazine and served as its poetry editor from 1979 to 1983. For the academic years 1986 to 1989, he was a Visiting Writer at Wesleyan University.[3][4]

Marriage and family

He and his wife have had three sons. The first son, Michael Jasper, died in infancy. His two other sons are Michael Frederick ("Mike") and Theodore Jasper ("Ted") Gioia.

Dana Gioia is the older brother of jazz historian Ted Gioia.[3]

Writing full time

Since becoming a full-time writer, Gioia also served as vice-president of the Poetry Society of America from 1992 and as music critic for San Francisco magazine from 1997. He also wrote the libretto of the opera Nosferatu (2001).

Gioia objects to how marginalized poetry has become in America. He believes that university English departments appropriated the field from the public:

The voluntary audience of serious contemporary poetry consists mainly of poets, would-be poets, and a few critics. Additionally, there is a slightly larger involuntary and ephemeral audience consisting of students who read contemporary poetry as assigned course work. In sociological terms, it is surely significant that most members of the poetry subculture are literally paid to read poetry: most established poets and critics now work for large educational institutions. Over the last half-century, literary bohemia had been replaced by an academic bureaucracy.[citation needed]

Better known as a critic than as a poet, he wrote a book about these issues, Can Poetry Matter? and lectured widely on his thesis, which provoked a spirited debate on the topic.


It was as a poet that Gioia first began to attract widespread attention in the early 1980s, with frequent appearances in The Hudson Review, Poetry, and The New Yorker. In the same period, he published a number of essays and book reviews. Both his poetry and his prose helped to establish him as one of the leading figures in the New Formalist movement, which emphasized a return to traditional poetic techniques such as rhyme, meter, and fixed form, and to narrative and non-autobiographical subject matter.

As a result, Daily Horoscope (1986), his first collection, was one of the most anticipated and widely discussed poetry volumes of its time. Its contents—like those of the two subsequent collections that Gioia has thus far published—range widely in form, length and theme: traditional forms and free verse; lyrics, meditations, and mid-length narratives; deeply personal poems and poems drawn from myth, history, and the other arts. Among its more notable—and widely reprinted—pieces are “California Hills in August,” “In Cheever Country,” and “The Sunday News.”

The Gods of Winter (1991) is in many ways a deeper and darker book than its predecessor. It contains “Planting a Sequoia,” his most direct engagement of the tragic loss of his infant son, as well as two long dramatic monologues, “Counting the Children,” in which an accountant has a disturbing interaction with a grotesque doll collection, and “The Homecoming,” whose narrator explains his motivations for committing murder and the effects that his violent acts have had upon him. Simultaneously published in Britain, it is one of the few American volumes ever chosen as the main selection of the U.K. Poetry Book Society.

Gioia’s third collection, Interrogations at Noon (2001) was the winner of the 2002 American Book Award. (It is surely no coincidence that each book’s title contains a temporal reference, given the importance of time and its passing as a theme in Gioia’s poetry.) Its varied contents include a suite of translations from the contemporary Italian poet Valerio Magrelli and two excerpts from Gioia’s translation of Seneca’s Hercules Furens, amid many original poems in which contemplative and occasionally wistful notes predominate, as in the concluding stanza of “Summer Storm”: “And memory insists on pining / For places it never went, / As if life would be happier / Just by being different.”

Gioia’s poems have appeared in The Norton Anthology of Poetry, The Oxford Book of American Poetry, and many other anthologies. They have been translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Chinese, and Arabic. His poetry has been set to music, in styles ranging from classical to jazz and rock, by—among others—Ned Rorem, Dave Brubeck, Paquito D’Rivera, and Alva Henderson; song cycles based on his poems have been composed by Stefania de Kenessey, Lori Laitman, and Paul Salerni. Gioia has also written the libretti for the operas Nosferatu (2001; music by Alva Henderson) and Tony Caruso’s Last Broadcast (2005; music by Paul Salerni).

In 2005, Dana Gioia received the John Ciardi Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry.

In 2010, Gioia was announced as the year's recipient of the Laetare Medal from the University of Notre Dame, an honor traditionally given to an American Catholic in recogonition of outstanding service to the Church and society.

NEA chairman

Gioia, in his role as chairman of NEA, unveils a 2007 postal stamp dedicated to poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Gioia was President George W. Bush's second choice to lead the NEA. The first, composer Michael P. Hammond, died only a week after taking office as the NEA's eighth chairman in January 2002. Gioia said, "I found an agency that was demoralized, defensive, and unconfident. It had been under constant assault for about fifteen years and it was suffering from the institutional version of battered child syndrome," said Gioia. "I don't think the NEA has done a very good job of serving America," he declared.[citation needed]

By bringing a new visibility to the agency and wooing Congressional Republicans, Gioia gained a sizeable increase in his agency's budget. "Dana is a superb politician. He knows how to talk to Congress and to the arts community, and to state and federal agencies and to the complex, gigantic, fire-breathing beast called the White House," said David Gelernter of Yale University.[citation needed]

At the NEA, Gioia created new programs such as Shakespeare in American Communities, bringing the Bard to small towns; and NEA Jazz Masters, promoting jazz music. The NEA presents an annual award for jazz which Gioia hopes will be the jazz equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize. "We have a generation of Americans growing up who have never been to the theater, the symphony, opera, dance, who have never heard fine jazz, and who increasingly don't read," said Gioia in justifying his efforts.[citation needed]

Gioia is not without critics, however. Many Congressmen believe the NEA should be abolished because it exceeds their view of the Constitutional functions of government. Some in the arts community fault the NEA for abandoning grants to individual artists, which were terminated after controversy over Robert Mapplethorpe, Andres Serrano, and others. Gioia responded, "Fellowships in prose (fiction and creative nonfiction) or poetry are available to published creative writers of exceptional talent."[citation needed] Gioia's new NEA programs, for which NEA has sought corporate and foundation support, worry other arts organizations because the NEA is competing with them for funding.

Gioia has also sought to promote reading among Americans. In July 2004 the NEA released a study showing how little time Americans were dedicating to literature. In 2005 he began what he called the "Big Read" program, seeking to get Americans to read serious literature, akin to the city-wide reading programs undertaken by several American cities such as Seattle, Cincinnati and Chicago.

Gioia is keen to do anything that can make the arts more available to the public. "Arts are not a luxury," he says.[5]

In 2007, Gioia was named the 2007 commencement speaker for his alma mater, Stanford University. His selection was a source of controversy between the class of 2007 and the administration.[6] In his commencement address, he lamented the fallout from the dominance of celebrity and fame as societal values: ". . . we live in a culture that barely acknowledges and rarely celebrates the arts or artists . . . When virtually all of a culture's celebrated figures are in sports or entertainment, how few possible role models we offer the young . . . There are so many other ways to lead a successful and meaningful life that are not denominated by money or fame. Adult life begins in a child's imagination, and we've relinquished that imagination to the marketplace."[7]

On November 17, 2008 Gioia was presented with the Presidential Citizens Medal by President George W. Bush.

In January 2009, Gioia was the Schwartz visiting fellow at the Pomfret School in Pomfret, Connecticut



  • Daily Horoscope (1986)
  • The Gods of Winter (1991)
  • Interrogations at Noon (2001)


  • Can Poetry Matter? (1991)
  • Barrier of a Common Language: An American Looks at Contemporary British Poetry (Poets on Poetry) (2003)
  • Disappearing Ink: Poetry at the End of Print Culture (2004)


  • Eugenio Montale's Motteti: Poem's of Love (translator) (1990)
  • The Madness of Hercules (Hercules Furens) (translator). Included in Seneca: The Tragedies, Volume II, published by Johns Hopkins (1995)


  • New Italian Poets (editor, with Michael Palma) (1991)
  • Certain Solitudes: On the Poetry of Donald Justice (editor, with William Logan) (1998)
  • California Poetry: From the Gold Rush to the Present (California Legacy) (editor, with Chryss Yost and Jack Hicks) (2003)
  • The Misread City: New Literary Los Angeles (editor, with Scott Timberg) (2003)


  • My California: Journeys by Great Writers (contributor / 2004)

Gioia has also written or co-written a number of texts used in college courses, including the anthology (edited with Dan Stone) 100 Great Poets of the English Language (2004). He is also the author of countless many essays and reviews.

Writings about Dana Gioia and His Work

  • April Lindner. Dana Gioia (Boise State University Western Writers Series, No. 143) (2003)
  • Jack W. C. Hagstrom and Bill Morgan. Dana Gioia: A Descriptive Bibliography with Critical Essays (2002)
  • Janet McCann, "Dana Gioia: A Contemporary Metaphysics," Renascence 61.3 (Spring 2009): 193-205.

See also



  • American Perspectives. C-SPAN. February 21, 2004. (Presentation of talk Gioia gave at the Agassi Theatre, Harvard University, February 9, 2004).
  • Cynthia Haven. "Dana Gioia Goes to Washington". Commonweal. November 21, 2003.
  • Cynthia Haven. "Poet Provocateur", Stanford Magazine, July/August 2000.
  • Belinda Lanks. "Bush Picks Poet for NEA", ARTnews December 2002
  • John J. Miller. "Up from Mapplethorpe". The National Review. March 8, 2004.
  • Jim Milliot. "Gioia vows to change America's reading habits." Publishers Weekly. June 27, 2005.
  • "Reviving the Bard" (editorial). The New Criterion. December 2003.
  • Bruce Weber. "Poet Brokers Truce in Culture Wars." The New York Times. September 7, 2004.
  • World Authors 1990-1995 New York: H.W. Wilson, 1999

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Michael Dana Gioia (born 1950-12-24) is an American poet and critic. He has been chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts since January 2003.




The Daily Horoscope (1986)

  • How many voices have escaped you until now,
    the venting furnace, the floorboards underfoot,
    the steady accusations of the clock
    numbering the minutes no one will mark.
    The terrible clarity this moment brings,
    the useless insight, the unbroken dark.

The Gods of Winter (1991)

  • Money. You don't know where it's been,
    but you put it where your mouth is.
    And it talks.
  • The music that of common speech
    but slanted so that each detail
    sounds unexpected as a sharp
    inserted in a simple scale.
  • Twisting through the thorn-thick underbrush,
    scratched and exhausted, one turns suddenly
    to find an unexpected waterfall,
    not half a mile from the nearest road,
    a spot so hard to reach that no one comes —
    a hiding place, a shrine for dragonflies
    and nesting jays, a sign that there is still
    one piece of property that won't be owned.

Interrogations at Noon (2001)

  • Yet the stones remain less real to those who cannot
    name them, or read the mute syllables graven in silica.
    To see a red stone is less than seeing it as jasper —
    metamorphic quartz, cousin to the flint the Kiowa
    carved as arrowheads. To name is to know and remember.
  • This is a prayer, inchoate and unfinished,
    for you, my love, my loss, my lesion,
    a rosary of words to count out time's
    illusions, all the minutes, hours, days
    the calendar compounds as if the past
    existed somewhere — like an inheritance
    still waiting to be claimed.
  • We are not as we were. Death has been our pentecost.
    • "Pentecost"
  • My blessed California, you are so wise.
    You render death abstract, efficient, clean.
    Your afterlife is only real estate,
    And in his kingdom Death must stay unseen.
    • "A California Requiem"
  • "We lived in places that we never knew.
    We could not name the birds perched on our sill,
    Or see the trees we cut down for our view.
    What we possessed we always chose to kill.

    "We claimed the earth but did not hear her claim,
    And when we died, they laid us on her breast,
    But she refuses us — until we earn
    Forgiveness from the lives we dispossessed."

    • "A California Requiem"
  • "Teach us the names of what we have destroyed."
    • "A California Requiem"
  • This is not work
    but a kind of workmanship.
    First out of paper, then from the body.
    To provoke thought into form,
    molded according to a measure.
    I think of a tailor
    who is his own fabric.
    • "Homage to Valerio Magrelli" (After the Italian of Valerio Magrelli), vi
  • What we conceal
    Is always more than what we dare confide.
    Think of the letters that we write our dead.


  • Audiences and critics acknowledge that a play or concerto gains force in great rendition. A good play may overcome bad staging. A great concerto may survive a poor soloist. But it is naturally assumed that a more accomplished performance intensifies the impact of the work. The play's text or concerto's score does not change, but the right actors and musicians help realize its full potential. Among contemporary literary critics, however, one never encounters this notion in regard to books and printing. To recognize the sensual contributions of the physical elements of a book is somehow assumed to demean the spiritual purity of the text. To notice the book itself smacks of philistinism, and to make distinctions based on paper, binding, and typography brings accusations of elitism or decadence.
  • What does an instinctively popular poet do in contemporary America, where serious poetry is no longer a popular art? The public whose values and sensibility he celebrates is unaware of his existence. Indeed, even if they were aware of his poetry, they would feel no need to approach it. Cut off from his proper audience, this poet feels little sympathy with the specialized minority readership that now sustains poetry either as a highly sophisticated verbal game or secular religion. His sensibility shows little similarity to theirs except for the common interest in poetry. And so the popular poet usually leads a marginal existence in literary life. His fellow poets look on him as an anomaly or an anachronism. Reviewers find him eminently unnewsworthy. Publishers see little prestige attached to printing his work. Critics, who have been trained to celebrate complexity, consider him an amiable simpleton.
  • Paradoxically, the simpler poetry is, the more difficult it becomes for a critic to discuss intelligently. Trained to explicate, the critic often loses the ability to evaluate literature outside the critical act. A work is good only in proportion to the richness and complexity of interpretations it provokes.
    • "The Anonymity of the Regional Poet: Ted Kooser," from Can Poetry Matter? Essays on Poetry and American Culture (1992)
  • The time has probably come to admit that the notion of an avant-garde is no longer useful in discussing contemporary literature. How can there be an avant-garde without a mainstream? Avant-garde de quoi? one must ask. Establishment institutions — universities, museums, foundations, commercial galleries, even the state — have embraced the idea of experimental art for so long that the avant-garde is now a safely domesticated concept, just another traditional style.
    • "Notes Toward a New Bohemia," transcript of a 1993 talk at the Poet's House, New York City, published in Poetry Flash (November/December 1993) and revised for publication in Grantmakers in the Arts (Spring 1994)
  • Like the intricately rational web of theology woven around the irrational mysteries of faith, the sober explanations of institutions for hoarding literary relics seem like elegant post-factum justifications for what is essentially a sense of sacred awe. An institution of learning seeks significant manuscripts because they possess qualities that scholarship cannot entirely reproduce — an authentic, holistic connection with the great writers of the past. It is not the intellectual content of the manuscript that is important but its material presence — ink spots, tobacco stains, pinworm holes, and foxing included.
    • "The Magical Value of Manuscripts," The Hudson Review (Spring 1996); later published as an introduction to The Hand of the Poet: Poems and Papers in Manuscript, ed. Rodney Phillips (1997)
  • In America, the term younger poet is applied with chivalric liberality. It can be used to describe anyone not yet collecting a Social Security pension.
  • America's first great surrealist artists were named Walt Disney, Max Fleischer, and Tex Avery. Their artistic medium was cartoon animation, though we must remember that cartoons of this era were seen not only by children but by a mixed audience, consisting mainly of adults. These men took — quite literally — the principles of surrealism and turned them into mass entertainment. As Fleischer's scantily clad Betty Boop ran through a phantasmagoric underground landscape to the driving beat of Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher," moviegoers of the Thirties saw surrealist dream-logic unfold more powerfully than in any experimental poem created in Greenwich Village. To this day the greatest moment of North American surrealism is probably Dumbo's drunken nightmare choreographed to the demonic oom-pah-pah of "Pink Elephants on Parade" from Walt Disney's 1941 movie. When the surrealist style was so quickly assimilated into mass-media comedy, what avant-garde poet could consider it sufficiently chic?
    • "James Tate and American Surrealism," BBC Radio 3, published in Denver Quarterly (Fall 1998)
  • Raw artistic talent is abundant. What is truly rare are the cultural circumstances, attitudes, and institutions to develop and perfect it. Few American cities have ever managed to foster a vibrant literary milieu of international significance — perhaps only Boston, New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. American literature has most often been an affair of isolated genius or small coterie.
  • In an age of global standardization, regional voices also remind both writer and reader that no life is lived generically. If the purpose of literature is truly, as the ancients insisted, to instruct and delight, then what better to understand and enjoy than the here and the now?
    • "Fallen Western Star," Denver Quarterly (Fall 1998)
  • To speak from a particular place and time is not provincialism but part of a writer’s identity.
  • Old empires always appeal to modern poets more than new ones.
  • Like gladiator games and pyramid building, opera has always been a gloriously money-losing proposition. It is the most extravagant of arts, requiring the constant support of kings, dictators, plutocrats, and town councils. Box-office success is no solution. San Francisco Opera loses money at every sold-out performance. Sane business practices simply don’t suffice. Composer Richard Wagner’s patron, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, was the ideal operatic angel — very rich and certifiably insane. Mel Brooks’ shyster producer Max Bialystock need not have mounted Springtime for Hitler to score a surefire loss. Aida would have done just fine.
  • I can’t think of better ways to learn than through pleasure and curiosity. I guess the reason these two qualities play so small a role in formal education is that they are so subjective and individual. Curiosity and delight can’t be institutionalized.

    Childhood and adolescence form our sensibilities. By the time I arrived in college, I had already developed a deep suspicion of all theories of art that did not originate in pleasure.

Can Poetry Matter? (1991)

First published in The Atlantic Monthly (May 1991) and later in Can Poetry Matter? Essays on Poetry and American Culture (1992) Source text here

  • The engines that have driven poetry's institutional success — the explosion of academic writing programs, the proliferation of subsidized magazines and presses, the emergence of a creative-writing career track, and the migration of American literary culture to the university — have unwittingly contributed to its disappearance from public view.
  • Most editors run poems and poetry reviews the way a prosperous Montana rancher might keep a few buffalo around — not to eat the endangered creatures but to display them for tradition's sake.
  • Even if great poetry continues to be written, it has retreated from the center of literary life. Though supported by a loyal coterie, poetry has lost the confidence that it speaks to and for the general culture.
  • Forty years ago, when Dylan Thomas read, he spent half the program reciting other poets' work. Hardly a self-effacing man, he was nevertheless humble before his art. Today most readings are celebrations less of poetry than of the author's ego. No wonder the audience for such events usually consists entirely of poets, would-be poets, and friends of the author.
  • Several dozen journals now exist that print only verse. They don't publish literary reviews, just page after page of freshly minted poems. The heart sinks to see so many poems crammed so tightly together, like downcast immigrants in steerage. One can easily miss a radiant poem amid the many lackluster ones. It takes tremendous effort to read these small magazines with openness and attention. Few people bother, generally not even the magazines' contributors. The indifference to poetry in the mass media has created a monster of the opposite kind — journals that love poetry not wisely but too well.
  • Poets serious about making careers in institutions understand that the criteria for success are primarily quantitative. They must publish as much as possible as quickly as possible. The slow maturation of genuine creativity looks like laziness to a committee. Wallace Stevens was forty-three when his first book appeared. Robert Frost was thirty-nine. Today these sluggards would be unemployable.
  • As long as poets belonged to a broader class of artists and intellectuals, they centered their lives in urban bohemias, where they maintained a distrustful independence from institutions. Once poets began moving into universities, they abandoned the working-class heterogeneity of Greenwich Village and North Beach for the professional homogeneity of academia.
  • In social terms the identification of poet with teacher is now complete. The first question one poet now asks another upon being introduced is "Where do you teach?" The problem is not that poets teach. The campus is not a bad place for a poet to work. It's just a bad place for all poets to work. Society suffers by losing the imagination and vitality that poets brought to public culture. Poetry suffers when literary standards are forced to conform with institutional ones.
  • The reviewers of fifty years ago knew that their primary loyalty must lie not with their fellow poets or publishers but with the reader. Consequently they reported their reactions with scrupulous honesty even when their opinions might lose them literary allies and writing assignments. In discussing new poetry they addressed a wide community of educated readers. Without talking down to their audience, they cultivated a public idiom. Prizing clarity and accessibility they avoided specialist jargon and pedantic displays of scholarship. They also tried, as serious intellectuals should but specialists often do not, to relate what was happening in poetry to social, political, and artistic trends. They charged modern poetry with cultural importance and made it the focal point of their intellectual discourse.
  • Poetry is the art of using words charged with their utmost meaning. A society whose intellectual leaders lose the skill to shape, appreciate, and understand the power of language will become the slaves of those who retain it — be they politicians, preachers, copywriters, or newscasters.
  • Poems should be memorized, recited, and performed. The sheer joy of the art must be emphasized. The pleasure of performance is what first attracts children to poetry, the sensual excitement of speaking and hearing the words of the poem. Performance was also the teaching technique that kept poetry vital for centuries. Maybe it also holds the key to poetry's future.
  • Society has already told us that poetry is dead. Let's build a funeral pyre out of the desiccated conventions piled around us and watch the ancient, spangle-feathered, unkillable phoenix rise from the ashes.


  • I personally regret the shift in literary study from reading primary texts to reading critical and theoretical texts. The major problem today among students is that they simply have not read enough literature. Consequently they do not have the necessary background to take a critical attitude towards literary theory. One needs to test every abstraction against experience.
  • Poetry is not a branch of analytical philosophy. It is a primal, holistic kind of human communication. A poet needs innocence as much as knowledge, emotion as much as intelligence, vulnerability as much as rigor. A poet can become too smart for his or her own good and forget the childlike pleasures of sound and story, sense, and sensuality that poetry should provide. The challenge for a writer is to master the medium of poetry without losing that inner innocence.
    • "Paradigms Lost," interview with Gloria Brame, ELF: Eclectic Literary Forum (Spring 1995)
  • Tradition is not, as post-modernists maintain, a library or museum the artist plunders. It is the endless conversation between the living and the dead. Young artists enter into this conversation passionately — not merely intellectually, though study and analysis play a part. They live and breathe it. Tradition is not a public building. It is a love affair.
    • "Paradigms Lost," interview with Gloria Brame, ELF: Eclectic Literary Forum (Spring 1995)
  • Poetry is an art form that demands heightened attention and retention. It both invites and rewards more intense involvement than we normally give to other kinds of speech. Poetic technique, therefore, is never esoteric but eminently practical. It serves at least two purposes. First, it announces that a poem differs from other kinds of speech, that it requires the audience's special attention. A poem begins by attracting our attention through its sound, shape, typography, syntax, texture, or tone. Second, the technique maintains the audience's involvement. All poetic form is a way of keeping the audience's attention beyond what ordinary language requires. Meter, for example, creates a gentle trance state in the auditor. Since poetry is more intense, condensed, and expressive than ordinary language, it needs these techniques to carry the burden of its message.
    • "Paradigms Lost," interview with Gloria Brame, ELF: Eclectic Literary Forum (Spring 1995)
  • I want a poetry that can learn as much from popular culture as from serious culture. A poetry that seeks the pleasure and emotionality of the popular arts without losing the precision, concentration, and depth that characterize high art. I want a literature that addresses a diverse audience distinguished for its intelligence, curiosity, and imagination rather than its professional credentials. I want a poetry that risks speaking to the fullness of our humanity, to our emotions as well as to our intellect, to our senses as well as our imagination and intuition. Finally I hope for a more sensual and physical art — closer to music, film, and painting than to philosophy or literary theory. Contemporary American literary culture has privileged the mind over the body. The soul has become embarrassed by the senses. Responding to poetry has become an exercise mainly in interpretation and analysis. Although poetry contains some of the most complex and sophisticated perceptions ever written down, it remains an essentially physical art tied to our senses of sound and sight. Yet, contemporary literary criticism consistently ignores the sheer sensuality of poetry and devotes its considerable energy to abstracting it into pure intellectualization. Intelligence is an irreplaceable element of poetry, but it needs to be vividly embodied in the physicality of language. We must — as artists, critics, and teachers — reclaim the essential sensuality of poetry. The art does not belong to apes or angels, but to us. We deserve art that speaks to us as complete human beings. Why settle for anything less?
    • "Paradigms Lost," interview with Gloria Brame, ELF: Eclectic Literary Forum (Spring 1995)
  • I did not want my son remembered by uncontrolled howls of pain. My wife and I suffered more than I can express, but to make poems merely out of the agony would have been self-pitying and dishonest. My son had been my greatest joy. His birth had left me awe-struck and humble before life. He turned me from a son into a father — and allowed me to understand my own father clearly for the first time. If I mourned him, I also wanted to preserve the joyful mystery of his existence. The sorrow could not be adequately appreciated without also expressing the joy and wonder.
    • "Paradigms Lost," interview with Gloria Brame, ELF: Eclectic Literary Forum (Spring 1995)
  • Once an author finishes a poem, he becomes merely another reader. I may remember what I intended to put into a text, but what matters is what a reader actually finds there — which is usually something both more and less than the poet planned.
    • "Paradigms Lost," interview with Gloria Brame, ELF: Eclectic Literary Forum (Spring 1995)

Speeches and lectures

  • The marketplace does only one thing — it puts a price on everything.

    The role of culture, however, must go beyond economics. It is not focused on the price of things, but on their value. And, above all, culture should tell us what is beyond price, including what does not belong in the marketplace. A culture should also provide some cogent view of the good life beyond mass accumulation. In this respect, our culture is failing us.

  • The purpose of arts education is not to produce more artists, though that is a byproduct. The real purpose of arts education is to create complete human beings capable of leading successful and productive lives in a free society.
    • Commencement speech, Stanford University (2007-06-17)
  • What is the defining difference between passive and active citizens? Curiously, it isn't income, geography, or even education. It depends on whether or not they read for pleasure and participate in the arts. These cultural activities seem to awaken a heightened sense of individual awareness and social responsibility.
    • Commencement speech, Stanford University (2007-06-17)

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