99 Poems: New & Selected

By Dana Gioia

Dana Gioia won the 2018  Poets’ Prize for 99 Poems: New & Selected, published in hardcover by Graywolf in 2016 and released in paperback in 2017. Gioia was honored at a ceremony held at the Nicholas Roerich Museum in New York City on Friday, May 18.

The Poets’ Prize is awarded annually by a committee of 20 poets to the best book of verse published by an American during the preceding year. The prize is administered by Lake Forest College and the $3,000 prize is funded by the members of the committee. “I’m deeply pleased to have the book recognized by this fine award. It is a pleasure to be prized,” Gioia said in a statement.

99 Poems: New & Selected gathered work from across Gioia’s career, including a dozen remarkable new poems. Best known for rigorous craft and use of traditional forms, rhyme, and meter, Gioia’s work is also appreciated widely for its emotional heft, tackling death, grief, love, time, family, and his own mortality. The Washington Post called 99 Poems “one of the most anticipated collections of 2016” and said, “No matter what the topic—mystery, place remembrance, imagination, stories, songs, love—or the form, these polished pieces are vibrant and inviting.”

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)