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Leave the poems out of the house



Leave the poems out of the house

What is a poem? What is the purpose? Who is it intended for? Closer Dana Gioia and host Russ Roberts explore these questions and more as they talk about the meaning of poetry. The conversation touches on many personal topics: death, loss, family and our common humanity. At the beginning of each episode, Roberts mentions EconTalk’s tagline: “Conversations for the Curious”. This conversation certainly fits the bill, as the two explore what poetry in various forms has meant to them and their families.

Dana Gioia’s career as a writer, poet, and critic spanned several genres, including as a librettist for opera and jazz artists. He has done public advocacy within the arts as Poet Laureate for the State of California and as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Here is an excerpt from Gioia about his powers as a poet:

You know, when I was a young, aspiring writer at Stanford and Harvard, imagining how I would make my mark, I had a very English-language idea of ​​what a poem is, and its relationship to the great tradition and history of poem. ideas. But these days I think about what a poem is: is this language instrument that you create, which is half a game and half a kind of spiritual exploration. But the highest thing you can do is be usable, is that these words should be useful to people in the dilemmas of their real lives. If you’re lucky, they’ll find uses for your poem that you can’t even imagine.

But I had this very strange thing: I wrote a poem and I let people talk about it in a completely different context. And I read the poem and realized that it applied to that context as well. Actually, I liked that as much as my own. Because poems are like children. Once they leave the house, they do things you didn’t imagine and may not approve of. But what you’re trying to do is make sure they can live an independent life.

I know that sounds really strange, but once my poems are published, I’m just one of the readers. I’m probably the best-informed reader, but if they belong anywhere at all, they belong in the language, with the readers of the language.

Gioia and Roberts agree on the power that poetry has in ordinary life, whether for a writer or economist, mother or child, opera lover or pop song lover. Do you agree? Their conversation reminded me of bits of poetry I memorized when I was younger, as a high school or college student, and how they occasionally crop up in my daily life. As an avid choral singer over the years, many of these poems are songs and have managed to imprint themselves in my brain almost by accident, but somehow, through their words and rhythms, they remain relevant to emotions and thoughts that I have years later.

What did you take away from the discussion between Gioia and Roberts? You may want to consider some of the questions below:

1 – Much of Roberts and Gioia’s conversations focus on the power of poetry to connect us with past and future generations. Russ quotes from a few lines from Septimus in Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia:

We throw as we pick up, like travelers who have to carry everything in their arms, and what we drop will be picked up by those coming behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing beyond the march, so nothing can be lost. Sophocles’ missing plays will emerge piece by piece, or be rewritten in another language. Age-old cures for diseases will reveal themselves again. Mathematical discoveries that have been glimpsed and are no longer visible will have their time again. Do you not think, my lady, that if all Archimedes had hidden themselves in the great library of Alexandria, we would not have a corkscrew?

Sophoclesas a great tragic playwright, was certainly a kind of poet. Archimedes and ancient physicians, however, belong to what we would characterize as science. What about other human expressions and ideas? Do scientific or economic ideas sometimes also serve this role of poems, connecting people to people?

2 – Gioia describes poetry as something that is ‘predestined heard.” Historically, he points out, poetry has always been linked to song and performance. Perhaps this is true to some extent of all knowledge expressed in human language; it’s more than just the visual representation on the page. Can ideas exist independently of discussion? To what extent is poetry both a conversation and a performance?

3 – In the opening part of the conversation, Gioia reads a poem he wrote: Meet me at the lighthouse. This is dedicated to his cousin, who died at a young age. It begins a discussion of the poem itself, which contains allusions to jazz, Yeats and classical mythological subjects, as well as references to the poet’s memory of his cousin. How do these allusions work together within the unity of the poem to evoke meaning? What do they say about Gioia himself, or his cousin?

4 – Gioia mentions that the Latin word for poem is the same as the word for song, Carmen. Modern popular music often functions as poetry. Is there a particular poem that will stay with you for the rest of your life? What was so meaningful about that poem and why do you remember it? If the poem has a musical setting, how is it enhanced? What is it about the music that is necessary for the poem, or is it necessary at all? Does this apply equally to different genres and eras of musical poetry: JS Bach, opera, old epic poems, Bob Dylan, Taylor Swift (of the Tortured Poets Department), Kendrick Lamar?

Related podcasts

Dana Gioia on learning, poetry and studying with Ms. BishopEcoTalk
Dwayne Betts on beauty, prison and editing, EcoTalk
Cheryl Miller on Hertog and the humanities, The great antidote

Zack Weinersmith on Beowulf and Bea Wolf EcoTalk

More to discover

Shannon Chamberlain op The freedom of poets: Thomas Wyatt as a character in Wolf Hall in the Reading Room and, relatedly, Garth Bond’s The Freedom of Poets 2: Thomas Wyatt and Petrarch

by Sarah Skwire J. Alfred Prufrock’s opportunity cost at EcoLib

Sarah Skwire on Milton’s Poetry and Prose: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room at Liberty’s online library

Confucius’The Shia King, the ancient ‘poetry classic’ of the Chinese at Liberty’s online library

The Bard and The Professor: Adam Smith’s Influence on the Poet Robert Burns at AdamSmithWorks

Adam Smith also teaches good education at AdamSmithWorks

The Imitative Arts: Some fun with the artistic opinions of Adam Smith at AdamSmithWorks

Ancient perspectives on the value of poetry in the Reading Room

The Poet as Intellectual: How the Romantics Adopted Thomas Malthus in the Reading Room

Nancy Vander Veer holds a BA in Classics from Samford University. She taught high school Latin in the US and held programming and fundraising positions at Paideia. Based in Marburg, Germany, she is currently completing a master’s degree in European social and economic history at Philipps-Universität Marburg.