A few weeks ago I was wondering if there was anything worse than a bad poetry reading–sitting captive in a low-ceilinged room in an uncomfortable chair listening to words that don’t seem to relate any meaning. The person I was complaining to asked why I go. I go for the kind of experience I had on Thursday, listening to Dana Gioia read his work at Falkirk House (the wonderful historic building where I read last summer) in San Rafael, courtesy of the Marin Poetry Center. I’ve written here before of Dana’s excellent critical prose, and of a “Verse,” a critical homage to Donald Justice that Dana told me last night will now be an ebook.
Dana has memorized many of his own poems in addition to a large cannon of Shakespeare, Tennyson, Poe, and others.
His rendering of whatever he’s reciting or reading is engaged, lively, dramatic. It’s a performance of the first order that makes you remember the magic of rhyme and meter, the delight of the spoken word. He read a long narrative poem, a sort of ghost story with a twist, which was perfect for the Victorian charm of the venue. I think this will appear in a new book to be published by Graywolf Press.
Not all his poetry is rhymed or metered verse, although it is all accomplished. He told a story about this poem. He was asked to write a New Year’s poem for some public event (I can’t remember the occasion or who asked). He wrote a 36 line poem that he later edited to a 28 line poem then a 24 line poem, then a sonnet then 12 lines, the 8, and finally this 6-line poem that has nothing to do with New Year’s. It was one of my favorites of the poems he read:
So much of what we live goes on inside–
The diaries of grief, the tongue-tied aches
Of unacknowledged love are no less real
For having passed unsaid. What we conceal
Is always more than what we dare confide.
Think of the letters that we write our dead.
You can find this and more in his current book, Interrogations at Noon.