Former California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia at Cal Lutheran

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Former California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia at Cal Lutheran

Maria Barragan, Reporter

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California Lutheran University welcomed former California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia, who was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown, on Wednesday, Oct. 23, for the event “The Innovative Vision of Poet Dana Gioia: American Poetry and Public Life.” This event in Samuelson Chapel was presented by the English Department and Artist and Speakers Committee.

“Even though I am the author of poems, I don’t necessarily know what a reader needs from my poems. I trust people to recognize and find what they need. I write poems that are not about me, but about us. And so I try to create something which we can share,” Gioia said.  

Gioia said he grew up in the city of Hawthorne, California and was the first of his family to attend college. He received a Bachelor of Arts from Stanford University in 1973, and later pursued his master’s degree at Harvard University in 1975, Gioia said.

Gioia is the former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, and is now Judge Widney and Professor of Poetry and Public Life at the University of Southern California. 

“I think it’s almost impossible to be a good writer without being a good reader. You read books, you fall in love with books, you become intoxicated with language and you find yourself creating. Humanity is a mimetic species, we imitate other things we see people do,” Gioia said.

Jim Bond, a professor in the English Department at Cal Lutheran and coordinator of the event, said he was committed to take on the “double duty” of adopting Gioia’s book of poetry into his “Major American Authors” course after he proposed the event plan to the Artist and Speakers Committee.

“He really has been an advocate for bringing all of the arts together, including poetry, into the public sphere for the average person. He doesn’t believe that only specialist like me should have a connection to the arts,” Bond said. 

Bond said he had previously met Gioia through composer Morten Lauridsen, who composed the song “Prayer” based on a poem written by Gioia after the passing of his four-month-old son. 

Bond expressed the importance of having Gioia present during a time he believes everybody is culturally and politically divided, as well as separated from the creative arts.

“To bring people together to realize that we do have a vibrant public sphere that we can all be apart of, and that maybe that is one avenue for healing the nation and for bringing people back together and for imagining a different nation that is so not so divided and that is constantly polarized politically in very unhealthy ways,” Bond said. “And that is why I titled this session the ‘Innovative Vision of Poet Dana Gioia: American Poetry and Public Life.’” 

Present at the event was Wyant Morton, professor of music and choir conduct at Cal Lutheran. Morton said it was great to have the opportunity to perform “Prayer” in front of the poet, after he already had the opportunity to work with Lauridsen.

 “There’s a lot of music I do once, and it is fulfilling and I am kind of happy to have done it and then looking for new things to do… This is one of those pieces, and there aren’t very many, that I enjoy coming back to and I always find something new in it each time,” Morton said.