‘99 Poems: New and Selected’ by Dana Gioia – A Versatile Selection


‘99 Poems: New and Selected’ by Dana Gioia    (2016) – 188 pages



I could connect with many of the poems in ’99 Poems’ by Danas Gioia.  For me, that is high praise of a poetry selection indeed.  I call ’99 Poems’ a selection because it is made up of new and selected poems.  I try to avoid collections, because collections tend to bombard you with everything the poet ever wrote whether good or bad. My love of poetry is not to the extent that I want to wade through mediocre poems.  I like my poetry books to at least be selective.

‘99 Poems’ is made up of seven sections.  Like everyone else, poets like to put their best foot forward at the start, and the first section ‘Mystery’ contains several of the best poems.

Let’s start with the poem ‘Insomnia’.  It is about a man lying awake in bed in his house unable to sleep.  The entire poem is excellent, but the following lines particularly hit home for me.


But now you must listen to the things you own,

All that you’ve worked for these past years,

The murmur of property, of things in disrepair,

About moving parts about to come undone,

And twisting in the sheets remember all

the faces you could not bring yourself to love.

The second section is called ‘Place’, and these poems are observations of nature.  The third section is called ‘Remembrance’ which contains poems in memory of his first son who passed away. Some of the poems he wrote about his son are quite poignant, but I also like the ones Gioia wrote in a minor key.  Consider these lines from the poem ‘Words’ which is in the first section:

The world does not need words.  It articulates itself

In sunlight, leaves, and shadows.  The stones on the path

Are no less real for lying uncatalogued and uncounted.

The fluent leaves speak only the dialect of pure being,

The kiss is still fully itself though no words were spoken.

The fourth section is entitled ‘Imagination’.  One poem here is ‘Title Index to My Next Book of Poems’ which I found to be quite humorous.

The fifth section is called ‘Stories’ which as its title implies are story poems which can be up to fifteen pages long.  Fortunately Gioia gives these longer poems a less intense narrative style that makes them easy to read quickly.  I enjoyed these stories, particularly the one called ‘Style’.

The sixth section is entitled ‘Songs’, and these poems have the traditional qualities of rhyme and measure and thus are easy to like and appreciate.  The final section is called ‘Love’.

So in this poetry selection, we have nearly all the different kinds of poems that exist.  Dana Gioia is a versatile poet, but one wonders if instead of doing so many different kinds of poems, he might have gone deeper with one particular type of poem.  Perhaps in the future he might take his strongest suit and develop his own unique style.

Overall in these poems, I found Dana Gioia to be an amusing and acute companion.


Grade:   B+


15 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by kaggsysbookishramblings on May 12, 2016 at 12:49 PM

    I like both of the quotes you give here, and so that’s a good sign too! Gioia is not a poet I’ve heard of but I’ll certainly be looking out for him now!


    • Hi Kaggsy,
      Dana Gioia was named the California State Poet Laureate recently, so he’s a west coast poet. He has written a famous essay called ‘Can Poetry Matter?’ which is a very good question.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Posted by Charles Behlen on September 28, 2020 at 4:12 AM

    Larkin’s “Whitsun Weddings” runs through one of his poems, Weldon Kees through another. I would have expected these influences to be more deeply assimilated in a poet of 65

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Charles,
      I am sure you have looked into this situation much more closely than I have, and I will take your word about Dana Gioia on this. It certainly would not be admirable.


  3. Posted by Charles Behlen on September 29, 2020 at 12:09 AM

    Even a poet as formidable as Howard Nemerov found himself writing Larkinesque poems late in life!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can certainly see Philip Larkin as a powerful influence on poems written after him. I wouldn’t blame a poet for writing poems that are Larkinesque, but there is a fine line between being influenced by and imitating.


  4. Posted by Charles Behlen on September 29, 2020 at 1:07 AM

    I have solved that problem by not publishing any of my own Larkinesque poems.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Posted by Charles Behlen on September 29, 2020 at 3:46 AM

    Thanks! I am both enthused and apprehensive. Check out “National Corpse” for what I hope is assimilated Auden with a touch of Larkin.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Actually my familiarity with both Larkin and Auden only extends to a few of their more famous poems. For Larkin, it’s especially those famous lines from ‘This Be the Verse”: They fuck you up, your mum and dad…”
      Even for the most famous poets, I find that only a few of their poems hit me where it hurts. But for your collection of poems, it is a different story. Stay tuned.

      I would like permission from you to quote one of your poems, ‘Home’, in its entirety.


  6. Posted by Charles Behlen on October 9, 2020 at 12:48 AM

    Please feel free to quote “Home” verbatim.


  7. Posted by Charle Behlen on October 19, 2020 at 9:39 PM

    Looking forward.


  8. Posted by Charles Behlen on October 19, 2020 at 10:40 PM

    Sounds good!


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