As I have said in earlier blogs, I always knew I wanted to be a writer. (And I feel fortunate that my path seemed so clear for me.) One article that helped me to think about being a writer, a poet in particular, was Dana Gioa’s “Can Poetry Matter?” which first ran way back in May 1991 in The Atlantic Monthly.
The essays begins: “American Poetry now belongs to a subculture. No longer part of the mainstream of artistic and intellectual life, it has become the specialized occupation of a relatively small and isolated group.” As you can guess, the article is not about writing poetry, it is about being a poet, and how to be a poet who is devoted to the art of poetry as well as to self-expression.
I don’t always agree with Dana Gioa’s criticism and I must admit I not all that familiar with his poetry. I know more about him (he’s a former corporate guy who was head of the NEA) than I do about his work (three books of poetry and three books of criticism plus translations, anthologies, and even librettos). I do know that this article is essential reading for any poet. It was subsequently published in Dana Gioa’s book of the same name Can Poetry Matter Essays on Poetry and American Culture published by Graywolf. Also, “Can Poetry Matter?” is said to have a launched a thousand essays and a follow-up article, “Hearing From Poetry’s Audience” by Dana Gioa which was published in The Atlantic in 1992.