Dana Gioia is a prominent spokesperson for New Formalism. As a critic of some discrimination, he has questioned many of the assumptions of postmodernism as well as the reputations of such figures as Robert Bly and John Ashbery. Yet Gioia’s aesthetic positions are generally moderate; while the free-verse establishment has been particularly antagonistic toward New Formalism in general and Gioia in particular, he has never condemned the use of free verse, often writing it himself.
Gioia’s first major collection, appearing in 1986, was met with a great deal of controversy, yet it seems more as if critics were angry with his essays and reviews but decided to attack the poetry instead. Although many of the poems are rhymed or metered, free verse is also common in the book; other poets had begun to return to traditional forms with a greater strictness than is shown in this collection, but Gioia’s prominence made him a point of attack. Many of the poems deal with the business world and the sense of displacement of a Californian living in the Northeast; “In Chandler Country” contrasts with “In Cheever Country,” “Eastern Standard Time” with “California Hills in August.” The last poem considers how the Easterner might dislike the drought and brownness of the landscape, but Gioia, the Californian, ends:
And yet how gentle it seems to someone raised in a landscape short of rain— the skyline of a hill broken by no more trees than one can count, the grass, the empty sky, the wish for water.
“Cruising with the Beachboys” catches the longing for lost youth, nostalgia stopping short of sentimentality, and “The Room Upstairs” is Gioia’s first collected longer narrative poem. His musical interests are on display in “Lives of the Great Composers,” written in the form of a fugue, and “An Elegy for Vladimir de Pachmann,” as well as a tribute to the jazz musician Bix Beiderbecke. Some poems are set in airports, some in Europe—all reinforce the general sense of displacement in the volume. Gioia bided his time before entering into book publication, and the result is that...
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