Re: What is poetry?

Former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Dana Gioia is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning poet. A native Californian of Italian and Mexican descent, Gioia (pronounced JOY-uh) received a B.A. and a M.B.A. from Stanford University and an M.A. in Comparative Literature from Harvard University.

Gioia has published three full-length collections of poetry, as well as eight chapbooks. His poetry collection, Interrogations at Noon, won the 2002 American Book Award. An influential critic as well, Gioia's 1991 volume Can Poetry Matter?, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award, is credited with helping to revive the role of poetry in American public culture.

  • Transcript


Question: What is poetry?

Dana Gioia: Well poetry is humanity’s answer to mortality. I mean if you had to talk about what poetry is about – what all poetry is about – it’s about time and mortality; that we live these finite existences through the world. Because the world, every year, renews itself in spring. And we see this kind of cyclical aspect of natural life. And yet our own lives are linear and finite. And it makes, in a sense, something enormously precious. If we were gods, if we were eternal, we would not need poetry. We would not need the arts. We would have existence unchallenged, unlimited. But because we’re mortal – because we face death – we have to in a sense constantly stop and understand our lives in different ways.

Recorded On: 7/6/07