Dana Gioia: not Dove material

Neither Gluck nor Gioia are represented by Dove in her 20th century poetry anthology.

Looking over Dove’s book, one is struck how prevalent rhyme is in the first 25% of the book (Masters b. 1868 through Roethke b. 1908 ), and then how it dwindles (Bishop b. 1911 through Sexton b. 1928) over the next 25%, and finally disappears altogether over the last half (Rich b. 1929 to Terrance Hayes b. 1971), as if no one rhymed in the second half of the 20th century to the present.

All the more interesting is the fact that all the poems known by the public, from “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” to “Emperor of Ice Cream” to “Prufrock” to “Waste Land” to “Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” to “We Real Cool” to “Her Kind” rhyme.  Has a famous American poem been written in the last 50 years?  All those Workshop poems—and nothing has caught on.  All those poems not tied down by meter and rhyme—and not one has caught on.

The public no longer exists which simply takes pleasure from poems and celebrates that fact; today publishers are the last ones who can make a poem famous—and the publishers haven’t a clue, since rhyme makes them uncomfortable for reasons  too numerous to mention.

Here is New Formalist Dana Gioia’s poem, languishing on his website, but brought out here to fight for Sweet 16 in the Scarriet 2012 Tournament:


I am the Angel with the Broken Wing,
The one large statue in this quiet room.
The staff finds me too fierce, and so they shut
Faith’s ardor in this air-conditioned tomb.

The docents praise my elegant design
Above the chatter of the gallery.
Perhaps I am a masterpiece of sorts—
The perfect emblem of futility.

Mendoza carved me for a country church.
(His name’s forgotten now except by me.)
I stood beside a gilded altar where
The hopeless offered God their misery.

I heard their women whispering at my feet—
Prayers for the lost, the dying, and the dead.
Their candles stretched my shadows up the wall,
And I became the hunger that they fed.

I broke my left wing in the Revolution
(Even a saint can savor irony)
When troops were sent to vandalize the chapel.
They hit me once—almost apologetically.

For even the godless feel something in a church,
A twinge of hope, fear? Who knows what it is?
A trembling unaccounted by their laws,
An ancient memory they can’t dismiss.

There are so many things I must tell God!
The howling of the dammed can’t reach so high.
But I stand like a dead thing nailed to a perch,
A crippled saint against a painted sky.

Louise Gluck, Yale Younger Judge 2003-2010, did not make it into Dove’s book, for whatever reason—we might point out that none of her Yale choices have made an impact (think of Auden picking Rich, Merwin, Ashbery, James Wright, Hollander, and Dickey). Here’s her poem:


I’ll tell you something: every day
people are dying. And that’s just the beginning.
Every day, in funeral homes, new widows are born,
new orphans. They sit with their hands folded,
trying to decide about this new life.

Then they’re in the cemetery, some of them
for the first time. They’re frightened of crying,
sometimes of not crying. Someone leans over,
tells them what to do next, which might mean
saying a few words, sometimes
throwing dirt in the open grave.

And after that, everyone goes back to the house,
which is suddenly full of visitors.
The widow sits on the couch, very stately,
so people line up to approach her,
sometimes take her hand, sometimes embrace her.
She finds something to say to everbody,
thanks them, thanks them for coming.

In her heart, she wants them to go away.
She wants to be back in the cemetery,
back in the sickroom, the hospital. She knows
it isn’t possible. But it’s her only hope,
the wish to move backward. And just a little,
not so far as the marriage, the first kiss.

Both of these poems are better than the majority of poems by living poets in Dove’s anthology.  Helen Vendler tried to make Dove’s shortcomings all about Wallace Stevens, but the real issue is editors lacking the courage to forget everything else and choose the best poems.  Gluck’s poem has a formal quality: there’s a lot of empty talk about how content is form, but here’s a real example: the poignant traveling backward of the widow.

We admire the Gioia more, but the Gluck gives us an emotional jolt: the heartbreaking “Just a little, not so far back as the marriage, the first kiss.”  Bravo, Ms. Gluck.

Gluck 72 Gioia 70


  1. bill said,

    June 2, 2012 at 10:10 pm

    Tom, I saw a great performance by Gioia last night. You would have loved it. He started out, not with one of his own poems, to illustrate what poetry at its best could be, but with Poe’s Annabel Lee.

    • noochinator said,

      June 3, 2012 at 2:37 pm

      Bill, that sounds awesome,
      Like ’twas truly the place to be—
      Myself I had to settle for
      The Kings-Devils game on TV.

    • thomasbrady said,

      June 4, 2012 at 1:31 pm

      Ah, there’s hope for humanity!

      Dylan Thomas used to do that, too. Read others’ poems, not just his own.

      Good for you, Gioia!

      Sorry you lost!

  2. bill said,

    June 12, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    Thanks for your replies, gents. Dana Gioia memorizes his poems, so he is making maximum eye contact when he acts them out. You can’t overestimate the expressive value of eye contact.

    • thomasbrady said,

      June 13, 2012 at 1:19 pm

      Eye contact!

      That’s a salesman’s trick.

      I’d rather listen to poems with my eyes closed.

      I don’t trust poets who memorize their poems—that’s too much self-love.

      I like the poets who don’t even remember they wrote the poem…oh did I write that? Now that’s real charm…

  3. bill said,

    June 14, 2012 at 10:38 pm

    Goodness, I’ve always wondered when I would be able to accuse someone of logocentrism. I think it refers to the belief that the spoken word has a metaphysical presence lacking in writing. I guess I would like to shift the argument to say that the poem performed in the scene that includes the bodily presences of the participants and their non-verbal communications should not be devalued in favor of the pure flow of words in an artificial darkness. Might as well stay home!

    • thomasbrady said,

      June 15, 2012 at 6:38 pm


      When it comes to poetry, in many cases, I would like to “stay home.” I don’t think Keats is better in a big arena with thousands of fans. I don’t think he ever will be. I’d rather be the silent ghost unseen by his side while he composes “Ode to a Nightingale” in his little garden…


  4. bill said,

    June 16, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Absolutely, TB. The readings I went to as a kid put me off poetry for decades. I’ve just discovered that readings CAN be good.

    • thomasbrady said,

      June 16, 2012 at 12:41 pm

      When I think of how much ‘poetry readings’ are now the most important part of po-biz, I wonder if this is a flaw. Poetry, when it had more genuine readers (not just poets pretending to read other poets), was a ‘stay at home’ thing: in a nice comfy chair in the den, one would pull down an old, warm anthology off the shelf…of course now there’s a 70 inch TV in that den today…but poetry doesn’t have to compete with TV…TV hasn’t killed poetry—that’s just an excuse. I think it might be closer to the truth that too many local big-ego poets giving local poetry readings have killed poetry…

  5. Des said,

    June 18, 2012 at 1:47 am

  6. noochinator said,

    January 9, 2016 at 10:31 am

    Four years after his loss to Gluck, Gioia bounces back:


    • thomasbrady said,

      January 9, 2016 at 2:12 pm

      Thanks, Nooch. Good for Gioia. This might help him get over his really tough loss.

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