Can Poetry Matter?: Essays on Poetry and American Culture

Can Poetry Matter? Essays on Poetry and American Culture was first published by Graywolf in 1992, and was a finalist for the National Book Critic’s Circle Award. The 10th anniversary edition includes a new introduction by Dana Gioia.

When Dana Gioia’s essay “Can Poetry Matter?” appeared in the Atlantic in 1991, it sparked a firestorm of debate and discussion over the role of the poet in today’s world – a dialogue in which Gioia participated on radio, television, and in print. One of the more stimulating and provocative figures on our literary horizon, and the author of two widely praised books of poems, Gioia is also an essayist of wide renown. This collection of essays demonstrates that Gioia’s talents do not lie in the area of controversy alone. Can Poetry Matter? is an old-fashioned sort of literary book, part literary criticism, part social commentary, and part plain good reading. Addressing such subjects as the poet as businessman and New Formalism as the real avant-garde, it also includes pieces on the life and work of such diverse figures as Robinson Jeffers, Weldon Kees, Robert Bly, and Wallace Stevens. In an age when literary discourse often seems either bleached of any real content or academic to the point of inaccessibility, the essays in Can Poetry Matter? are certain to educate, provoke, and, perhaps most of all, delight readers. They also establish Dana Gioia as one of the foremost cultural observers of his generation.

—From the publisher’s note

Table of Contents

  • Can Poetry Matter?
  • The Dilemma of the Long Poem
  • Notes on the New Formalism
  • Strong Counsel (Robinson Jeffers)
  • The Loneliness of Weldon Kees
  • The Anonymity of the Regional Poet (Ted Kooser)
  • Business and Poetry
  • Two Views of Wallace Stevens
    • The Sense of the Sleight-of-Hand Man
    • The Emperor of Hartford
  • Bourgeois in Bohemia (T. S. Eliot)
  • The Successful Career of Robert Bly
  • Short Views
    • John Ashberry
    • Margaret Atwood
    • Jared Carter
    • James Dickey
    • Tom Disch
    • Maxine Kumin
    Radcliffe Squires
    • Theodore Weiss
  • The Difficult Case of Howard Moss
  • Tradition and Individual Talent (Donald Justice)
  • The Example of Elizabeth Bishop
  • The Poet in the Age of Prose