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By Patricia Smith

Does Dana Gioia matter? Obviously more than we know…
An alert Cave Canem alum spotted this in the big man’s bio–
“An influential critic as well, Gioia’s 1991 book ‘Can Poetry
Matter?’, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle
Award, is credited with reinvigorating the role of poetry in
contemporary American culture and giving rise to popular poetry
movements such as poetry slams and cowboy poetry.”
Is that true? Did Dana Gioia’s lofty 1991 tome miraculously give birth to slams that I participated in four years earlier?
Wow. He’s magic.

Comments (7)

  • On November 6, 2007 at 8:28 pm Steve wrote:

    You don’t link to the bio– maybe it isn’t online– but it’s usually a mistake to read too much into such things, which are often– especially for people with big administrative staffs– written by interns or assistants without much, if any, knowledge of the field. (One hopes that if he looked at the bio you quote, he’d make the correction. Some people don’t look at all their capsule bios, though. I know I don’t.)
    It is true that Gioia was one of the first people from his neck of the woods (i.e. “formal” or neo-formalist verse from the 1980s) to tell other such people that they should take slams seriously, though it’s ridiculous to think that he helped invent that form, or to even think that he thinks he did. (By the way, Al Gore never said he invented the Internet, either.)

  • On November 6, 2007 at 11:32 pm Vivek Narayanan wrote:

    Patricia & Steve–
    Fascinating isn’t it? He’s like a prophet of the past, someone specially adept at predicting things that have long since happened. Here’s the link: http://www.nea.gov/news/news06/PoetryPavilion2.html .
    It’s from the NEA site, and one does hope that it was written by an intern not more than 15 years old, albeit one who’s clearly a fan or, even more hopefully, some merry infiltrating prankster. Gioia’s own site merely rests with the claim that Can Poetry Matter is “one of the most influential books on poetry of the last quarter century”. Funny… I was in the US at the time, and I don’t remember it at all. In fact, I only remember frequent references to the book coming up after Gioia’s ascent to purse-string power, well into the new Republican presidency, as American poets of all stripes began to suck up to him…
    By the way, Patricia, I really liked your “Hip Hop Ghazal”. That should be credited with the rise of something or the other. Shall we call it… the new formalism?

  • On November 7, 2007 at 12:08 am Jerry Forrest wrote:

    And yet, regarding Burt’s comment, those claims come from somewhere. Best guess is Gioia vets his bios–he’s the head of the NEA, after all. And he was VP of marketing for General Foods. Image is everything to a guy like him; it’s all he has. So the intern argument, bollocks. The guy’s too careful to leave the details to so-called uninformed assistants. Who has those, anyway?

  • On November 7, 2007 at 8:29 am patricia wrote:

    The “new formalism.” I like it…and I LOVE sparking new schools of poetry. Lately I’m striving to bless the chaos with structure, to bless the structure with chaos.

  • On November 7, 2007 at 10:04 am Mark Eleveld wrote:

    if the bio below is correct, obviously it is flawed and silly; this is how his bio reads online: ‘An influential critic as well, Gioia’s 1991 book Can Poetry Matter?, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award, is credited with helping to revive the role of poetry in American public culture.’ in defense of this statement, i know a lot of poetry ‘heads’ who have used this essay at length for scholarly work.
    i spoke at some length with Dana when ‘The Spoken Word Revolution’ came out, and involved parts of his essay ‘Disappearing Ink’ in ‘Redux’. there is some cross over that interested me.
    to me, he is in a unique position because of his conservative artistic view; but arts are his life, and he is smart enough to know the influence that poetry slams and rap have had on the cultural milieu. so, while not fully needed now (as it was a couple of years ago), to have the sort of academic support from the chairman of the NEA for poetry slams, well, that was nice. and his writing on it (‘Disappearing Ink’) is interesting in that he is one of the few critics at that level openly writing about our subject. i wish there were more critical outposts for our community, from people within and out. when i go to nationals, or hang with y’all, or go into classrooms where you are teaching, i hear and see the critique i wish i could regularly read about in bigger publication. to me, Dana is important in starting to write ABOUT it.
    what is really disappointing is the Poetry Outloud Mission Statement calling on poetry slam, and then ignoring the work (poems) from slam in their catalog of poems.
    Dana isn’t the problem, he is a needed protagonist; the slam just needs a strong enough concentrated voice to correct the errors (that are plentiful) made in regard to this artform.
    ele
    –can you see Marc Smith accepting an appointment by Bush for poetry advisor, something like that? now that would be fun ….

  • On November 7, 2007 at 10:06 am Mark Eleveld wrote:

    I should add, I just spoke with Dana, and he said that it was an error, and that it was written by a staff member.

  • On November 8, 2007 at 12:05 pm Kevin wrote:

    Gioa or one of his assistants needs to change his bio.


Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, November 6th, 2007 by Patricia Smith.