‘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.