May 12, 2022

Convocation speaker Dana Gioia hosts poetry reading and book signing, talks about the musicality of verse

The day before his remarks at the Hillsdale Fall Convocation, acclaimed poet Dana Gioia read a selection of his own works to a group of students and faculty.

At the event, Gioia followed her poetry readings by answering questions from the audience and signing books, engaging in a more in-depth discussion with the group.

The event’s organizer, Associate Professor of English Dutton Kearney, explained that the event had been in the works for years.

“Fifteen years ago, the college invited Dana Gioia to speak at the start,” Kearney said. “Dr. Arnn went out of his way, even offering to bring him here in a private jet, but Mr. Gioia had sworn all the starting addresses.

Kearney was not a faculty member at the time, but a few years ago he received a request from Jeff Bilbro, assistant professor of English at Spring Arbor University, to partner with him to bring Gioia in Hillsdale. Kearney agreed and started working with Gioia to organize the trip.

“When Gioia mentioned that he had already been invited to give the keynote address, I realized that his visit was more important than the guest writers program,” Kearney said. “I suggested that Dana speak at convocation: still a solemn academic event, but not as a beginning and he agreed.”

Kearney also noted the important role Arnn played in getting Gioia to college. Unfortunately, problems arose which necessitated the postponement of the event.

“The delays sounded like an apocalypse: wildfires, floods, riots, even a plague,” Kearney said. “Covid presented us with the longest timeframe, but we all persevered. “

Gioia read poems composed in different styles, each conveying a unique set of emotions. He explained that the variety has helped him connect with a wider audience on a deeper level.

“People have different moods and different sides,” Gioia said. “A person’s personality tends to be a thing of variety and abundance, so I try to express that in my work.”

Gioia also advocated that, rather than isolating her poetic style to fit the current mold, one should write in the style that suits them best.

“Because I was trained in music, I probably respond more deeply to the musical elements of poetry,” Gioia said. “But I write both free verse and form.”

Kearney noted that he was happy with the event, observing how Gioia managed to captivate his audience.

“Some people in the audience were moved to tears and some to laughter, but all were captivated for the 45 minutes,” Kearney said.

Assistant Education Professor Jonathan Gregg, who was in attendance, agreed. He said he loved Gioia’s poems on marriage, especially as a married man himself.

“I love that he is such a constructive poet, not trying to demolish or expose nonsense, but rather always search for meaning and bring ideas together and show them in new ways,” said said Gregg.

Gioia concluded the event by saying that the poetry should invite readers to participate with the writer in creative thinking and bring the audience to a place of discovery while they listen.

“Poetry is a song,” said Gioia. “And I hope that the music of the poems will make discoveries to the public equal to the discoveries that I had while writing the poems.”


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