99 Poems: New & Selected

By Dana Gioia

Publishers Weekly writes:

Gioia (Pity the Beautiful) displays his immense talents for structure and for tackling difficult subject matter in this first new and selected volume of his career. A major figure in the late 20th-century return to formalism, Gioia works largely within tight arrangements of meter, though he usually eschews rhyme, and employs simple metaphors and straightforward narratives to reach an emotional core. In “Planting a Sequoia,” about the death of Gioia’s firstborn infant son, tragedy and heartbreak are expressed in plainspoken terms: “In Sicily a father plants a tree to celebrate his first son’s birth—/ But today we kneel in the cold planting you.” The book is organized by theme—mystery, place, remembrance, imagination, stories, songs, and love—and Gioia’s careful diction and dedication to the line lend gravitas to even the most quotidian subjects. Even where he breaks his adherence to classical forms, as in the humorous “Title Index to My Next Book of Poems,” he follows tight organizational principles. Similarly, the form of the opening poem, “The Burning Ladder,” reflects its subject: the dream ladder of the biblical Jacob. Readers searching for classically styled poetry that is unflinchingly sincere and honest will find what they need in the voice of this master poet.  (Reviewed on 02/12/2016)