Dana Gioia on the Common Reader

The new poet laureate for California is the former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts and USC poetry professor Dana Gioia. Micah Mattix asked him a few questions

Writing for “what we used to call the common reader . . . doesn’t mean dumbing things down,” Gioia told me. “It is possible to bring the best of poetry to a broad audience without condescension . . . The common reader is not an idiot. He or she is a lawyer, doctor, farmer, soldier, scientist, minister, civil servant.”

Mattix states, “Gioia’s own poetry ignores the current fashion for obscure, partially fragmented free verse whose allusions and assimilated jargon appeal mostly to academics and other poets.”

For example, here are a few words from “Becoming a Redwood,” a poem that sounds as if it were written by Robert Frost.

Yes, it’s hard to stand still, hour after hour,
fixed as a fencepost, hearing the steers
snort in the dark pasture, smelling the manure.
And paralyzed by the mystery of how a stone
can bear to be a stone, the pain
the grass endures breaking through the earth’s crust.

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