Posts Tagged ‘“Dana Gioia”’

He did it! He did it! Dana Gioia reaches all 58 California counties as poet laureate!

Wednesday, October 31st, 2018
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California poet laureate Dana Gioia, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, had a goal to visit every county in the state. This week he completed his task. It’s taken two years, 16 flights, and 17,000 miles on the road for him to do it.

“Each California Poet Laureate takes on a significant cultural project, with one of its goals being to bring poetry to those who might otherwise have little exposure. As his project, Gioia’s county tour was an incredible achievement to that end,” according to the California Arts Council. His term of office, which began in December 2015, officially ends this week.

So what was his final destination, County № 58? Hanford Library in Kings County, in the San Joaquin Valley. “We ended things with a bang — a nice crowd, a live band, ten poets, and a dozen freight-train whistles blasting by,” he said.

As a friend, I know how demanding and labor-intensive that goal was for him – so often I phoned Dana when he was in a car, on a lonely stretch of some interstate, headed to a reading or a festival or other event in some remote city. Or else on his way into a meeting, celebration, a dinner. He was thoroughly devoted to his task.

I wrote about his inspiring appearance at the inaugural Sierra Poetry Festival here. He really did make a difference.

Earlier this month, Dana put the cherry on the sundae: he brought together more than sixty city, county, regional and state laureates, past and present, in a historic gathering and group reading at the McGroarty Arts Center in Tujunga. “The event marked the only large-scale gathering of California’s laureates since the termed position of state poet laureate was first established in 2001,” according to the council.

“My aim as California poet laureate was to reach the whole state, not just the literary centers,” he said. “Visiting every county in this huge state to create events with local writers was not just an adventure—it was fun. I traveled through astonishing landscapes, and everywhere I went, big town or small, I met poets, musicians, and artists. Serving as laureate has been one of the great experiences of my life.”

One of ours, too, Dana. California thanks you.

Farewell Prof. Herbert Lindenberger (1929-2018), a mentor of “animation and intensity”

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2018
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He gave “electrifying” lectures.

Herbert Lindenberger  died on October 1 at 89, of multiple myeloma. He was active till a few weeks ago, visiting museums and attending operas.

I met the Stanford professor of English and comparative literature … well, “met” Herbert Lindenberger.. eighteen years ago when I contacted him for a profile of Dana Gioia (you can read it here). He commented on his former student. We’ve spoken by phone more recently, and was a warm and lively presence, but we never got the face-to-face we’d discussed.

He was born in Los Angeles on April 4, 1929. He was a recipient Fulbright Fellowship to the University of Vienna (1952-53), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1968-69), two National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships (1975-76, 1982-83), a  Stanford Humanities Center Fellowship (1982-83), a resident fellow at the Rockefeller Study Center in Bellagio, Italy (1996), named a “Distinguished Alumnus in the Humanities” at the University of Washington (2006), and a fellow at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (elected 2008).

His most recent books are Aesthetics of Discomfort: Conversations on Disquieting Artwith Frederick Luis Aldama (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2016) and One Family’s Shoah: Victimization, Resistance, Survival in Nazi Europe (New York and London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

Previous books include:  On Wordsworth’s ‘Prelude’ (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963; Princeton paperback edition, 1966); Georg Büchner, in Crosscurrents/Modern Critiques series (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1964); Georg Trakl, in Twayne World Authors Series (New York: Twayne [now G.K. Hall], 1971); Historical Drama: The Relation of Literature and Reality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, l975; Phoenix paperback edition, 1978); Saul’s Fall: A Critical Fiction (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979); Opera: The Extravagant Art (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984; Cornell paperback edition, 1986); The History in Literature: On Value, Genre, Institutions (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990); Opera in History: From Monteverdi to Cage (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998); Dogstory: A Memoir in HypertextStanford University, April, 1999; Situating Opera: Period, Genre, Reception (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

Years ago he commented on Dana. Now it’s time for his former student to comment on him. I sent the news to Dana half an hour ago, and got this reply: “Terrible news. I knew Herbie for nearly half a century. He was a wonderful man.” Dana has known him for half-a-century.

“Herbie Lindenberger was my mentor at Stanford, and we became lifelong friends.  His famous course on Modernism was an intellectual milestone in my life. He was one of the finest teachers I’ve ever known. He brought a level of animation and intensity to the classroom that electrified his students. What good fortune to have known him as a teacher and friend.”

His son Michael Lindenberger posted this: “We recently went through a document he had given us regarding action items to take upon his death. (He was unbelievably organized and prepared for virtually any eventuality.) Regarding communicating with the Stanford English department, where he was a professor for many years, he had written to us, ‘Tell them that when the chair announces my death not to say “passed away” as the last chair did, but simply to use the word “died” and say that if this order is not followed I shall place a hex on the chair from wherever I am.’ That was our dad – candid and humorous even about death. And, as is evidenced by people who have reached out to us over the past 48 hours, it’s clear that his enthusiasm, warmth, humor, and intense intellectual energy were truly infectious. Not a moment of his 89 years was wasted.”

Best American Poetry: the movie and a launch on Thursday, Sept. 20!

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018
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We’re on the road (in New York City, in fact), but wanted to let you know about the “Best American Poetry Reading 2018” on Thursday, September 20, at 7 p.m.

The event will take place at the New School’s auditorium (Room A106), the Alvin Johnson/J.M. Kaplan Hall. Series editor David Lehman and Dana Gioia,  guest editor for the Best American Poetry 2018 volume, will headline an all-star cast of poets to launch the volume. I’m told this is an annual rite of fall in New York.

Dana is also former chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts and now California’s poet laureate (and always, always a cherished friend). In the video below, he calls his guest editorship  “a privilege and a challenge.”

The book includes poets we’ve written about before – A.E. Stallings, Kay Ryan, Dick Davis, David Mason, Tracy K. Smith, Robin Coste Lewis and more.

We’ve run an excerpt from his introduction, “A Poet Today is more Likely to be a Barista than a Professor,”  here.

Below a sampler of the Thursday event. It was filmed by Dana’s son, Michael Gioia.

A poet today is more likely to be a barista than a professor.

Tuesday, September 4th, 2018
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Dana Gioia and Doctor Gatsby. (Photo: Star Black)

American poetry is full of contradictory trends. “That’s one reason why the articles announcing poetry’s demise are usually right and wrong at the same time,” says California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia, who is also a former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. He has edited The Best American Poetry 2018. The Los Angeles Review of Books has published an excerpt from his introduction, on the state of American poetry today. As always, Dana has spotted a number of trends that hadn’t quite crystallized in my own thinking – or perhaps, in this case, it’s simply that I live in an academic environment, and the fish doesn’t notice the water.

An excerpt of the excerpt:

The university’s role in poetry may be the most complicated paradox of all. For decades, the expansion of academic writing programs provided a home for poets, first as students and later as instructors. Academia gave thousands of poets secure, paid employment — something unprecedented in the history of Western literature. It was the United States’s version of the imperial Mandarin system, which once employed poets as bureaucrats across China’s vast empire. Our system was even better. Poets got summers off.

Then, like most booms, the surge ended. The university system stopped expanding, especially in the humanities. Job applicants greatly outnumbered job openings. Rather than address the problem by cutting back graduate programs, universities chose to exploit their junior personnel as cost-savings. Tenure-track careers became adjunct gigs with low pay, no benefits, and minimal job security. The academic situation is old news, but it is still awful to young and often not-so-young people trapped in crappy jobs or unemployment. The tale of this city depends on what side of the tenure track a poet lives.

With Dana at the inaugural Sierra Poetry Festival, 2017.

Academia’s problems, however, had an unexpected cultural benefit. The legions of young writers, artists, musicians, and scholars who met with disappointment in the academic job market haven’t all vanished. Most of them just moved. Not finding a place in one world, the academic refugees sought new lives in another. As old bohemian neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan, San Francisco, and other cities were being destroyed by gentrification, tourism, and rising real estate prices, a steady stream of unemployed and underemployed artists helped enlarge or create new communities in places such as Oakland, Austin, Portland, Jersey City, Astoria, and Downtown Los Angeles. Here they joined and revitalized preexisting local communities. Bohemian communities have also emerged in smaller towns, but in such cases their size makes them vulnerable to tourism and development. Witness the stultifying impact of money on Aspen and Carmel or, on a larger scale, the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Thirty years ago, the typical young poet taught in a university. Today’s new generation is more likely to be living in a big city and employed outside academia. They work as baristas, brewers, and bookstore clerks; they also work in business, medicine, and the law. Technology has made it possible to publish books without institutional or commercial support. Social media connects people more effectively than any faculty lounge. An online journal requires nothing but time. An iPhone and a laptop can produce a professional poetry video. Any bookstore, library, cafe, or gallery can host a poetry reading.

New circumstances create interesting possibilities for poets. In the new bohemia, a poet doesn’t need to worry about tenure, peer review, or academic fashions. A poet doesn’t even need a degree. Audience is not an abstract entity; the poet sees a diverse crowd face to face at readings. Those faces are not the same ones found at a research university. The new communities include large parts of the population unlikely to participate in academic literary life because they are blocked by poverty, language, and race. Those groups have brought new perspectives and new energy to literary life. Minority authors and audiences often share a conviction that literature and literacy are fundamental to the identity, advancement, and even survival of their communities. When creating your own literature becomes a life-or-death issue, different sorts of poetry emerge from what one commonly finds in an English department.

The new bohemia is no demi-Eden. Writers struggle to balance their art with practical exigencies. Their situation is complicated but exciting. Existing outside both the academic and market economy makes these poets marginal in society, but their circumstances also give them freedom from commercial and academic conventions. Most boho writers, with or without degrees, probably still dream of snagging a professorship, but they also recognize that as outsider artists they represent an important cultural enterprise. Together they have created a vigorous alternative culture that has broken the university’s monopoly on poetry. They have diversified, democratized, and localized American poetry.

Read the whole thing here (and Dana answers a question in the combox, too).

Postscript on Sept. 6 from David J. Bauman: “I want to be careful to respond to the article and not the headline. It’s actually a very positive and open assessment of where American poets are today and (mostly) why. The only tiny tidbit I question is when Gioia says: “Most boho writers, with or without degrees, probably still dream of snagging a professorship.” I don’t think that’s true. As a public library director, I can honestly say, my interest in joining the university ranks died off long ago. And while he happily argues that today’s young poets don’t need to go the university route, he does not seem to be aware of the fact that many don’t, or even never, wanted to. While I have nothing against MFAs, I still think their biggest blind spot was the fact that there are plenty of artists, poets included, who have zero interest in teaching at a university. It makes sense for many, but it is not a good fit for all. And our poetry as a nation is better for it. I’m happy that folks, including Gioia are waking up to that realization.” (See David’s own blog here.)

Another postscript, on Sept. 10 from essayist, filmmaker Rick Segreda: I don’t blame anybody from fleeing academia these days, hostage as it is to polarized politics, but when have artists in any medium in any age been entitled to live, and live well at that, off their art? This brings to my mind Isaak Dinesen’s gourmet French chef, Babette, who sacrifices her life savings to win over the hearts, minds, and appetites of a puritanical Danish community. At the end, she explains “a true artist is never poor.”

And we missed this Sept. 6 note from the inimitable Jeff Sypeck, in the combox: Good piece by Gioia. Even though he was trying only to describe the situation rather than judge it, I’m inclined to find it a positive development, in the long run, that poetry is no longer confined to the academy. As someone who tries to find spare moments to write and read poetry while holding down an unrelated full-time job and part-time job, I can’t help but think that the profs who have the luxury of being full-time poets should be turning out much better work than they ultimately do. I don’t mean for that to sound as snide as it likely does, especially since I can name several professor-poets whose work is fresh and exuberant, but there tends to be an awfully safe, prim aura about “campus poetry,” hewing as it does to conventions that have had a century to congeal. Anyway, I appreciate Dana Gioia’s generous spirit; I think he’s wise to see that even terrible Instagram poetry holds the promise of new audiences, readers who are hungry for something they can’t quite name.

A poetry prize for Dana Gioia, and a reading in an “otherworldly setting”

Saturday, May 19th, 2018
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Dana Gioia has won so many honors, awards, positions, distinctions, that it’s hard to keep track of them, but we can begin with his current appointment as poet laureate of California, and his earlier appointment as National Endowment of the Arts chair. As of yesterday, he has a new one: he was awarded this year’s Poets’ Prize for 99 Poems: New & Selected (Graywolf). The ceremony took place in New York City’s Nicholas Roerich Museum.

The winning book

“Dana has won many honors, but he has never won one of the ‘major’ poetry prizes,” said R.S. Gwynn, thinking of the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, the Bollingen Prize. “His well known role as an advocate for the arts has perhaps overshadowed his excellence as a poet. Our award is not, however, for lifetime achievement or extra-literary work; it is an award, pure and simple, for what the members of the committee consider the best poetry collection of the year.” (Sam Gwynn is stepping down after ten years as chair of the event. He will be replaced by poet Robert Archambeau, with Marc Vincenz, editor of Plume and MadHat Press, stepping in as the new co-chair. have stepped forward to keep the prize alive.”

A committee of 20 poets selects the winner of the $3,000 prize, which is administered by Lake Forest College. The award is offered annually for the best book of verse published by a living American poet two years prior to the award year. The $3,000 annual prize is donated by a committee of about 20 American poets, who each nominate two books and who also serve as judges. Previous winners include A.E. Stallings, X.J. Kennedy, Marilyn Nelson, and Adrienne Rich. In fact, Dana shared the award with Rich way back in 1992.

I cannot find my own copy of 99 Poems to search for a poem – however, I do have a broadsheet of this one, which is included in the volume. It’s among my personal favorites, and somehow fits the Roerich Museum:

The Stars Now Rearrange Themselves

The stars now rearrange themselves above you
but to no effect. Tonight,
only for tonight, their powers lapse,
and you must look toward earth. There will be
no comets now, no pointing star
to lead you where you know you must go.

Look for smaller signs instead, the fine
disturbances of ordered things when suddenly
the rhythms of your expectation break
and in a moment’s pause another world
reveals itself behind the ordinary.

And one small detail out of place will be
enough to let you know: a missing ring,
a breath, a footfall or a sudden breeze,
a crack of light beneath a darkened door.

The verdict from one of the poets attending the event, Susan de Sola Rodstein: “Wonderful event in an otherworldly setting, with touching tributes to Colette Inez and Dick Allen, and memorable readings by prize-winner Dana Gioia and finalists” – the finalists were James May and John Foy. Susan also took the photos above and below.

Sam Gwynn, Dana Gioia, and Robert Archambeau

The second Sierra Poetry Festival this weekend – with Robin Coste Lewis, David Kipen, and me

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018
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Angeleno David Kipen will be in the Sierra foothills for an onstage convo this weekend.

Another gig this weekend. I’m heading to the hills to be (I’m told) a “celebrity presenter” at the 2018 Sierra Poetry Festival on Saturday, April 28, which will be held at Sierra College in Grass Valley. Ever so tiny a celebrity, I should think – a National Book Award winner Robin Coste Lewis, is the keynote speaker, after all. And as always, Executive Director of Nevada County Arts Council Eliza Tudor is the magnificent organizer and visionary behind the event. You can hear her discuss the event (with poet Marcelo Hernandez Castillo) over here.

I wrote about the Sierra festival in its inaugural year, 2017, when California poet laureate Dana Gioia was the keynote speaker. He gave a terrific talk – read about it here.

Last year’s poetry festival, with Dana Gioia and Moi (Photo: Mary Gioia)

Said Eliza of this year’s program: “We chose our theme, Ordinary Light, as a nod to our brand new United States Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith, for the title of her award-winning memoir.” We’ve written about the poet, a Stanford alum, here.

I spent about a dozen years in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, “Gold Country.” The twin cities – Grass Valley and Nevada City – are the best and largest souvenirs of the Gold Rush period in California history, and have a growing tourist industry. (Both cities are now under state designation with the California Cultural District program.)

That’s one enticement. Then there’s the company. Consider this an invitation to come and join me. It’s an all-day one-day event. I’ll be having an onstage conversation with David Kipen at 3:30 p.m.

David, born and raised in Los Angeles, is the former literature director of the National Endowment for the Arts, during the time it was under the chairmanship of a fellow Angeleno … Dana Gioia. Since then, David opened the Boyle Heights bookstore and lending library Libros Schmibros in 2010.

He is also the former book editor/critic of the San Francisco Chronicle, which is where I encountered him in the late 1990s. I was a critic at that time for the august San Francisco institution.

However, he was for the most part telecommuting from Los Angeles. So we only had one brief encounter, years later, at an event for the National Book Critics Circle we both attended. He moved through the room like the sun, and his conversation is engaging and lively.

The conversation will be moderated by author Kim Culbertson, who will try to rein in David and me. Our topic: “What does it mean to be a literary citizen?”

She’s back: U.K.’s Mel Pryor (Photo: Radu Sava)

I don’t think the type on the poster is quite readable when reduced to blog size (bel0w), but you can go and see the full line-up and more legibly here. You can also register for the event online here.

The highpoint: Keynote Speaker Los Angeles Poet Laureate Robin Coste Lewis will speak at 9:30 a.m.

From The Guardian:

At age six, Robin Coste Lewis told her aunt that she wanted to be a writer. This, she thought, meant being a novelist.

“I thought that if one wanted to be a writer, one had to write novels because I didn’t know that one could be a poet,” says Lewis, whose debut collection Voyage of the Sable Venus won this year’s National Book Award for poetry. She believed this in middle school, high school, college, graduate school, and afterward while teaching, and trying to write fiction. She believed it when she published She Has Eight Arms But Only Shows Me Two in the Massachusetts Review, a work that she thought was a short story, “even though all my poet friends at the time were like, ‘Girl, that’s a prose poem.’”

To the marrow … National Book Award winner Lewis

Things changed after she was in an accident that caused permanent brain damage and kept her in bed for two years.

The recovery was difficult. Lewis had to do speech-language therapy and stop reading and writing. “My neurologist told me, ‘You can only write one sentence and read one sentence a day,’” she says. “I decided, ‘OK, if it’s one line a day, it’s going to be a goddamned good line.’” …

“I am an artist through to my marrow,” she says, though adding, “which might be a curse and not necessarily a good thing.”

And poet Mel Pryor will be flying in from England – as she did last year – to attend. Closer to home is Nevada City poet Molly Fisk.  But read the schedule here, and the list of presenters here. Tickets are here.

See you there.


Never heard of her? A poet who endured illness, poverty, and the “snotty standards of British reviewing.”

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018
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Elizabeth Jennings – rediscovered.

Dana Gioia has a superb essay over in First Things, “Clarify me, please, God of the galaxies,” about Elizabeth Jennings, the only woman in the “Movement” poets of the U.K. (We’ve regularly written about a few of the others – Philip Larkin, Robert Conquest, Thom Gunn.) She echoes the Movement credo, with a soupçon of Christian mysticism perhaps, when she writes: “Only one thing must be cast out, and that is the vague. Only true clarity reaches to the heights and the depths of human, and more than human, understanding.”

Never heard of her? “Although mocked by the press and neglected by scholars, Jennings enjoyed a popular readership in the U.K.,” Dana writes. “Her Selected Poems (1979) sold more than 50,000 copies. Her poems became A-level texts for secondary schools. Her steadfast publisher, Michael Schmidt of Carcanet, claims she became his bestselling author—’the most unconditionally loved’ poet of her generation.”

She lived her life almost entirely in Oxfordshire, where she experienced mental breakdown and subsequent hospitalization, under-employment and unemployment, and shabby poverty, but nevertheless earned many awards and much recognition. When she received the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (C.B.E) at Buckingham Palace in 1992, the press criticized her for looking like a “bag lady.” She died in 2001, at 75.

“Jennings was not a great poet. Greatness had no appeal to her. She admired epic visionaries, such as Dante, Milton, and Eliot, who offered sublime visions of civilization and belief. She recognized, however, that her muse was lyric. Jennings’s ‘great’ subject was how the individual—fragile, isolated, but alert—worked her way through life’s difficulties and wonders. Her sensibility was romantic, but her style was neoclassical. The characteristic Jennings poem presents the ache and exhilaration of romantic yearning expressed in exquisitely controlled rhyme and meter. She acknowledges her own confused romantic longings—emotional, artistic, and religious—but subjects them to lucid analysis. Her goal is not to resolve the contradictions but clarify them.”

Dana says there are two ways to introduce the public to an unfamiliar poet. The first is to describe particular qualities of the work. He opts for Door Number Two:

“The second way to introduce a poet is simpler. Quote the work. Here is the opening of ‘I Feel.’

I feel I could be turned to ice
If this goes on, if this goes on.
I feel I could be buried twice
And still the death not yet be done.

I feel I could be turned to fire
If there can be no end to this.
I know within me such desire
No kiss could satisfy, no kiss.

The poem’s language is direct, musical, and intense. The strict form feels less like an abstract framework than a cauldron barely able to contain its scalding emotions. The poem’s impact is so immediate and tangibly personal that it is easy to miss its quiet but profound engagement with the Catholic literary tradition. The paradoxical combination of ice and fire imagery goes back at least as far as Petrarch. More interesting, however, is the poem’s connections to Christian mysticism. Although “I Feel” initially seems an expression of erotic longing poisoned by despair, close examination reveals it can also be read as a tortured expression of spiritual hunger, the mystic’s excruciating desire for rapturous union with God.

Dana with Doctor Gatsby. (Photo: Star Black)

She was prodigiously productive, and produced great poems at every stage of her life. Yet her Catholic religion set her apart as much as being being a woman did: “Jennings’s literary reputation never surmounted the limits imposed on women of her generation. By the time of her death in 2001, the situation for female writers had become less grim, but her Catholicism isolated her from the feminist vanguard leading the cultural change. In her later years, reviewers often treated her with condescension and hostility. One young critic mocked her as a ‘Christian lady’ and ’emotional anchorite’ inhabiting a world of ‘shapeless woolens, small kindnesses and quiet deaths’ —an odious remark even by the snotty standards of British reviewing. Jennings understood the dilemma and bore it, but not without a touch of bitterness. (Few Catholic poets extend the concept of redemptive suffering to include their own bad reviews.)”

Read the whole thing here.

Anton Chekhov, a lady, and her dog: “the casual telling of a nuclear experience in an ordinary life.”

Wednesday, January 31st, 2018
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I’m working rather feverishly to finish writing against an important and non-negotiable deadline, and began two blog posts to you, Faithful Readers, but got strangely tangled up in my own words and couldn’t finish. Nevertheless I finally got a chance at last to read poet Dana Gioia‘s discussion of Anton Chekhov’s 1899 short story, “The Lady with the Pet Dog.” His thoughts about it are over at his website here. In the course of it, he writes, the hero (if you can call him that) “undergoes a strange and winding course of emotional and moral growth that few readers would expect.” Vladimir Nabokov called it “one of the greatest stories ever written.”

Dana begins with some background on Chekhov:

Anton Chekhov’s late stories mark a pivotal moment in European fiction–the point where nineteenth-century realist conventions of the short story begin their transformation into the modern form. The Russian master, therefore, straddles two traditions. On one side is the anti-Romantic realism of Maupassant with its sharp observation of external social detail and human behavior conveyed within a tightly drawn plot. On the other side is the modern psychological realism of early Joyce in which the action is mostly internal and expressed in an associative narrative built on epiphanic moments. Taking elements from both sides, Chekhov forged a powerful individual style that prefigures modernism without losing most of the traditional trappings of the form. If Maupassant excelled at creating credible narrative surprise, Chekhov had a genius for conveying the astonishing possibilities of human nature. His psychological insight was profound and dynamic. Joyce may have more exactly captured the texture of human consciousness, but no short story writer has better expressed its often invisible complexities.

Dana and friend.

It is an instructive irony that at the end of the twentieth century current short fiction seemingly owes more to Chekhov than to Joyce or any other high-modernist master. In 1987 when Daniel Halpern asked twenty-five of the noted writers featured in his collection, The Art of the Tale: An International Anthology of Short Stories 1945-1985 (New York: Viking, 1987), to name the most crucial influences on their own work, Chekhov’s name appeared more often than that of any other author. Ten writers–including Eudora Welty, Nadine Gordimer, and Raymond Carver–mentioned Chekhov. (James Joyce and Henry James tied for a distant second place with five votes each.) Chekhov’s preeminent position among contemporary writers is not accidental; no other author so greatly influenced the development of the modern short story. As the late Rufus Matthewson once observed, Chekhov fully articulated the dominant form of twentieth century short fiction: “the casual telling of a nuclear experience in an ordinary life, rendered with immediate and telling detail.” Chekhov was the first author to consciously explore and perfect this literary method in his vast output of short stories.

What do you know? I got this off without too much fuss. And I even found an image of a small yapping dog (you can read the story behind the painting here.) Read the Dana’s essay here.

How-to guides and texting aren’t enough: “Children, from the very earliest age, need to read stories,” says Dana Gioia.

Friday, November 24th, 2017
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Still on the road – but it may be some time before he gets to Lassen County.

Dana Gioia, California State Poet Laureate (and former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts), is continuing his mission to visit all of California’s 58 counties during his term. It’s not always easy: “I’m trying to go to Lassen County, but Lassen doesn’t have any libraries,” he said. “There are 3,000 people [in the county], and the person who runs the arts for the state there, it’s a part-time job. She also works as a forest ranger. In a lot of these places, I’m the first person who’s ever given a poetry reading.”

And some counties need to be visited more than once. For example, his home turf, Los Angeles County. At an event last week at California State University, Northridge, Prof. Robert Gohstand quoted from one of Dana’s articles, in which the poet claimed that  “literature awakens, enlarges, enhances and refines our humanity in a way that nothing else can.”

At the inaugural Sierra Poetry Festival last spring. (Photo: Radu Sava)

Dana’s remarks at the Northridge event reinforced what Ursula K. Le Guin said in the previous Book Haven post: that we need to train the imagination. “One of the troubles with our culture is we do not respect and train the imagination. It needs exercise. It needs practice,” she said (read the rest here).

In short, it’s not enough for kids to read cellphone texts, tech manuals, comics, wikipedia, or science magazines. They need to read literature.

An excerpt:

“The early experience of reading opens up something in an individual’s mind and imagination, which makes him or her begin to lead their lives differently,” Gioia said. “Children, from the very earliest age, need to read stories. They need to know how many possible outcomes any story has, how many characters, how many plot reversals. If you don’t train the imagination early on, it tends to be locked into a very narrow set of possibilities.

“It’s the books that capture the imagination that deliver the practical outcomes, rather than the books that are designed with cold-blooded pragmatism to teach people mechanical skills of reading,” said Gioia, who also serves as the Judge Widney Professor of Poetry and Public Culture at the University of Southern California.

“Literature has the power to arrest the attention to create an empathetic connection as you’re reading, to use your imagination, to fill out the details,” he said. “That’s why reading is a more powerful imaginative exercise than watching a film. The debt that I owe to books, to public libraries, is immeasurable. It made a huge difference in my life.”

Read how libraries changed his life here.

England takes notice of California’s poet laureate: Dana Gioia on the BBC

Saturday, September 30th, 2017
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“I don’t want to be a visiting celebrity. I want to be a catalyst,” says California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia. The Book Haven has already discussed his efforts as poet laureate here and here, but it’s nice to see his work getting international recognition. He’ll be on the BBC tomorrow, Oct. 1, at 10 a.m. California Time (PST). The program, called “a radio road movie,” will be available shortly after broadcast.

From the BBC website:

When Dana Gioia was appointed Poet Laureate of California in 2015 he was invited to read in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento. But Gioia believes the role is to encourage poetry throughout the state. He has a mission: to visit every county in the state of California.

There are 58, stretching from Del Norte 1,000 miles south to Imperial, bordering Mexico; from the Sierra mountains and redwood forests to the desert; densely populated Los Angeles (almost 10 million) to almost empty Modoc (fewer than 10,000); with established communities from Mexico and Europe joined recently by people from the Far East.

Everywhere Gioia is joined by other poets and young people participating in Poetry Out Loud. For nine years Gioia was Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts. One of his initiatives was this nationwide competition for young people to memorise and recite poems. It is astonishingly popular.

40-odd counties in, producer Julian May joins Gioia to create a radio road movie for Radio 3. Gioia reads in a pub yard in Mariposa, an old gold-mining town, while humming birds dart and hover. A few days later Gioia hears of a huge wildfire coming within a mile of the wooden town. In a library in Madera, roasting in California’s central valley, a woman from Peru recites a love poem in Spanish. In marches a squad of lads – military boots, buzzcuts. They are from the juvenile hall youth correctional facility. Each, says Officer Martinez, can recite a poem by heart. There is an event in Turlock, settled by Assyrians, another in San Diego near Mexico and, in his home county, Sonoma, Gioia appears at poetry event in a vineyard.

All this, and more, in ‘Every County in the State of California’, a radio road movie.

It airs tomorrow morning, October 1, at 10 a.m., California Time (PST). You can read the press release, too, here.