Elegy with Surrealist Proverbs as Refrain

By Dana Gioia b. 1950 Dana Gioia
“Poetry must lead somewhere,” declared Breton.   
He carried a rose inside his coat each day
to give a beautiful stranger—“Better to die of love   
than love without regret.” And those who loved him   
soon learned regret. “The simplest surreal act   
is running through the street with a revolver
firing at random.” Old and famous, he seemed démodé.   
There is always a skeleton on the buffet.

Wounded Apollinaire wore a small steel plate   
inserted in his skull. “I so loved art,” he smiled,
“I joined the artillery.” His friends were asked to wait   
while his widow laid a crucifix across his chest.   
Picasso hated death. The funeral left him so distressed   
he painted a self-portrait. “It's always other people,”   
remarked Duchamp, “who do the dying.”   
I came. I sat down. I went away.

Dali dreamed of Hitler as a white-skinned girl—
impossibly pale, luminous and lifeless as the moon.   
Wealthy Roussel taught his poodle to smoke a pipe.   
“When I write, I am surrounded by radiance.   
My glory is like a great bomb waiting to explode.”   
When his valet refused to slash his wrists,   
the bankrupt writer took an overdose of pills.   
There is always a skeleton on the buffet.

Breton considered suicide the truest art,
though life seemed hardly worth the trouble to discard.   
The German colonels strolled the Île de la Cité—
some to the Louvre, some to the Place Pigalle.
“The loneliness of poets has been erased,” cried Éluard,
in praise of Stalin. “Burn all the books,” said dying Hugo Ball.   
There is always a skeleton on the buffet.
I came. I sat down. I went away.

Dana Gioia, “Elegy with Surrealist Proverbs as Refrain” from Interrogations at Noon. Copyright © 2001 by Dana Gioia. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.

Source: Interrogations at Noon (Graywolf Press, 2001)

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Poet Dana Gioia b. 1950


Poetic Terms Elegy, Refrain

 Dana  Gioia


It seems almost a requirement for a poet to have an unconventional résumé, but Dana Gioia’s is perhaps notable for being so conventionally unpoetic. A graduate of Stanford Business School, Gioia claims to be “the only person, in history, who went to business school to be a poet.” He later rose to become a vice president at General Foods, where he marketed products such as Kool-Aid. These experiences in the corporate world, Gioia . . .

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Poetic Terms Elegy, Refrain

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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