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GIOIA, DANA (1950- ) Perhaps the best-known poet associated with new formalism, Dana Gioia is a prominent advocate for the restoration of meter, rhyme, and traditional formal structures to American poetry (see prosody and free verse). He is a prolific essayist, critic, editor, translator, cultural commentator, and librettist whose own poetry consistently embodies the conservative aesthetic values he champions in his prose. His 1991 essay "Can Poetry Matter?" gained national attention for its claim that poetry had lost touch with the wider American culture and had become the exclusive property of professional enthusiasts. Scholarly in scope but not pedantic in tone, Gioia's poetry encompasses a wide spectrum of subjects, from classical myth in "Juno Plots Her Revenge" (2002) to jazz in "Bix Beiderbecke" (1986) to the natural landscape of "Rough Country" (1991) to personal grief in "Prayer" (1991), yet, in nearly every piece, he attempts to achieve grace and clarity through the fusion of formal design with—as he writes in "The Next Poem" (1991)—the "music ... of common speech."
Of Sicilian and Mexican parentage, Gioia was born and raised in Hawthorne, California, near Los Angeles. He received a B.A. in English from Stanford University in 1973 and in 1975 earned an M.A. in comparative literature from Harvard, where he studied with Elizabeth bishop. Returning to Stanford for a masters degree in business administration in 1977, he worked as a corporate executive until 1992. His poetry collection Interrogations at Noon (2001) won a 2002 American Book Award. In January 2003 he was appointed chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.
While Gioia's poems showcase his metrical skills, their diction is rarely ornate or lavish. More often they are subtle and muted in their explorations of "the modest places which contain our lives" ("In Cheever Country" ). As Bruce F. Murphy notes, "Gioia's is a public poetry that retains a sense of privacy, and a feeling for the limits of language" (291). Greg Kuzma takes a more negative view of the poet's conservative metrical style when he says that Gioia's iambic pentameter is executed "so much and so loosely that there is a humming monotony to the poetry" (114).
The difficult balance between form and feeling is most explicitly realized in the elegiac lyrics written after the death of Gioia's infant son, which range from the rhymed quatrains of "All Souls"' (1991) to the more expansive, variable lines of "Planting a Sequoia" (1991). Restraint and metaphor are used to channel otherwise overpowering emotions. In a later poem, "Corner Table" (2001), he writes, "What matters most / Most often can't be said." Still Gioia effectively expresses what matters to him through the time-tested methods that poets have relied upon for centuries.
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