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Pity the Beautiful: Poems Paperback – May 8, 2012

4.6 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Almost as parsimonious at publishing his work as Henry Taylor (four collections in 40 years), Gioia gives us his fourth collection 25 years after the first, Daily Horoscope, and, like Taylor, makes every collection worth the wait. At the book’s center is “Haunted,” a story of relaxed blank verse in which a man explains how he came to be a monk. Completely absorbing, it has its confrere in the four-stanza “Being Happy,” which also focuses on a youthful love affair. Another on the same theme is the incompletely end-rhymed “Cold San Francisco” (known as a champion of formal verse, Gioia often rhymes strategically and musically, however, rather than strictly). Verging upon light verse but eschewing the merely funny are “The Seven Deadly Sins” and “Pity the Beautiful.” A little heavier are the bittersweet meditation on mortality, “Finding a Box of Family Letters”; the bold satire, “The Freeways Considered as Earth Gods”; and the serious parody of the Beatitudes, “Prayer at Winter Solstice.” Two poems recalling the poet’s greatest personal tragedy, “Special Treatments Ward” and “Majority,” close the second and fifth sections of the book. Finally, setting the Americanism of Gioia’s own work in relief are translations of poems by two modern Italians, Mario Luzi and Bartolo Cattafi. Great riches in remarkably few pages. --Ray Olson


“In his best poems, Gioia rises to the occasion of all great poetry: to immortalize our experience by submitting it to the test of tradition and inspiration.” ―Thomas D'Evelyn, The Christian Science Monitor

“Gioia concerns himself with every aspect of his craft: its traditions, its movements toward and away from rhyme and meter, and its ancient roots in the sound of the human voice . . . Gioia is clearly a poet whose words are heard, whose positions ignite debate, whose work constantly and unflinchingly searches out new ways to counter what he calls 'our sentimental, upbeat age.'” ―from the American Book Award citation for Interrogations at Noon

“Dana Gioia's poems always reveal his narrative ease and naturalness of diction; he's partly an old-fashioned storyteller and partly a metaphysical poet of reflection and devotion. From his very first book, which was published twenty-five years ago, he's always been considered one of this country's most accomplished formal masters.” ―David St. John


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 88 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press; aFirst Edition First Printing edition (May 8, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555976131
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555976132
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #207,240 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I received my copy of Gioia's latest poetry collection yesterday and sat right down to one of the best literary meals I have had in a long time.

I heard Gioia read a couple of the poems at Grolier's Poetry Bookshop in Boston on Valentine's Day and pre-ordered immediately. Other than having the poems READ by the author, this collection is about as good as it gets. Each poem is lovingly created with an ear tuned to the ebb and flow of natural language, while upping the ante of meaning. The poems resonate with the passion of loss and resurrection.

Among my personal favorites are: The Angel With The Broken Wing (favorite), Finding a Box of Family Letters, and The Present. Of course I would be remiss in failing to mention Special Treatments Ward, which left me sobbing by the final stanzas. "I cannot name them -- their faces pale and gray/ like ashes fallen from a distant fire" It is haunting and a challenge to me personally to pay better and closer attention to the details of sorrow which make us all more human.

Likewise in Finding a Box of Family Letters, we find ourselves challenged to pay attention:

"It's silly to get sentimental./ The dead have moved on. So should we./ But isn't it equally simpleminded to miss/ the special enterprise of the departed/ in clarifying our long-term plans?"

I felt compelled to revisit my memories after reading this poem, to evaluate my relationship to the past and to my long-gone relatives. When Gioia writes, "They never forget that the line/ between them and us is only temporary..." I am again reduced to tears (in a good way). I need these reminders of how we are but pearls on a strand of cotton thread.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I heard Garrison Keillor read "Finding A Box of Family Letters" on his "Writers' Almanac" program a few days ago and went looking for Dana Gioia's latest book of poetry. I have found too often in the past, when I have ordered poetry after having heard Mr. Keillor read from some poet, that he has a knack for picking the best of the selections. Fortunately that is not the case in this instance although "Finding A Box of Family Letters" is certainly as good as anything else in PITY THE BEAUTIFUL.

My father breaks my heart
simply by being so young and handsome.
He's half my age, with jet-black hair.
Look at him in his navy uniform
grinning beside his dive-bomber.

Then the haunting last stanza:

They never let us forget that the line
between them and us is only temporary.
Get out there and dance! The letters shout
adding, Love always. Can't wait to get home!
And soon we will be. See you there.

The whole poem will break your heart. And if this one isn't enough there is "Special Treatment Ward" with an opening line almost too painful to read: "So this is where the children come to die." The second stanza expresses the feeling that many of us have experienced: that if we love them and hold them, that we can somehow keep the dying alive.

The mother's spend their nights inside the ward,
sleeping on chairs that fold out into beds, [sounds so familiar!]
too small to lie in comfort. Soon they slip
beside their children, as if they might mesh
those small bruised bodies back into their flesh.
Instinctively they feel that love so strong
protects a child. Each morning proves them wrong.

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It's rather startling to read contemporary poetry that rhymes. And Pity the Beautiful: Poems by Dana Gioia is startling in exactly that way, and more.

There's a name for this, of course; we have to give everything a name: The "New Formalism." It reaches back to a time when most poetry did indeed rhyme, and was metrical as well. It was also a time (roughly pre-World War II, perhaps a little earlier) when poetry has a much broader appeal than it does today. Newspapers, for example often published poetry on a daily basis. The poets associated with the New Formalism include Mark Jarman, Howard Nemerov, Donald Justice, Mary Oliver - and Dana Gioia.

Even after World War II, rhyming poetry was still taught to schoolchildren. I can remember learning (and doing a class-in-unison recital) of Longfellow's "Paul Revere's Ride" in the fifth grade. It was nationalism and poetry and performance art in one nice package.

And that is partially the point Gioia makes in Can Poetry Matter?, his collection of essays about poetry and American culture, that the post-war shift of poetry largely to academia essentially shut the door on poetry for the public. Poetic forms and techniques like rhyme (and meter) were largely abandoned.

Gioia has been working to resurrect both more traditional poetry and "Poetry for the public," and Pity the Beautiful is more than a nod in that direction.

The important point about rhyme is that it's memorable and accessible, and it makes recall easier. Consider the opening lines of Gioia's poem "The Reunion:"

This is my past where no one knows me,
These are my friends whom I can't name--
Here in a field where no one chose me,
The faces older, the voices the same.
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