Can Poets Matter?

Poet a Contender to Run Federal Arts Agency:

[poet-executive Dana Gioia]

(Dana) Gioia (pronounced JOY-a), 51, has published three books of poetry: Daily Horoscope (1986), The Gods of Winter (1991) and Interrogations at Noon (2001), which won the American Book Award in May. He is well known as someone who has revived rhyme and meter, though he also writes in free verse.

He was widely recognized for his essay “Can Poetry Matter?,”

which appeared in The Atlantic in 1991. In the essay, Mr. Gioia argued that a clubby academic subculture that had grown up around poetry was preventing it from being widely available to the mainstream. The essay prompted considerable debate and was included in Mr. Gioia’s 1992 collection of essays, Can Poetry Matter?: Essays on Poetry and American Culture, which was selected by Publishers Weekly as one of its Best Books of 1992 and became a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award. NY Times

From “Can Poetry Matter?”

:

The situation has become a paradox, a Zen riddle of cultural sociology. Over the past half century, as American poetry’s specialist audience has steadily expanded, its general readership has declined. Moreover, 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.

Words
Dana Gioia

The world does not need words. It articulates itself

in sunlight, leaves, and shadows. The stones on the path

are no less real for lying uncatalogued and uncounted.

The fluent leaves speak only the dialect of pure being.

The kiss is still fully itself though no words were spoken.

And one word transforms it into something less or other–

illicit, chaste, perfunctory, conjugal, covert.

Even calling it a kiss betrays the fluster of hands

glancing the skin or gripping a shoulder, the slow

arching of neck or knee, the silent touching of tongues.

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.

The sunlight needs no praise piercing the rainclouds,

painting the rocks and leaves with light, then dissolving

each lucent droplet back into the clouds that engendered it.

The daylight needs no praise, and so we praise it always–

greater than ourselves and all the airy words we summon.