California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia visited the main branch of the Colusa County Free Library last week, and was welcomed by a crowd of about 20 people.
Among other things, Gioia spoke about his upbringing and his experiences as the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, read from a diverse selection of poetry, and explained his aim as the state’s poet laureate: to bring poetry to everybody in the state, rather than just the already poetically inclined.
The final point in particular resonated with Roberta James, who was one of the 20 people in attendance last Thursday.
“I thought it was wonderful that he wanted to go around to all the counties of California. As an educator, I think it was an excellent approach to bringing poetry to everyone, rather than just people who enjoy poetry,” James said.
While the assemblage was lacking in numbers, those in attendance were impressed, both by Gioia’s personality and his artistic ability.
“When he spoke, he was magical,” said Friend of the Library Cynthia White.
Pam DaGrosa, also a member of Friends of the Colusa County Library, described the evening as terrific. She said that she was particularly impressed with the variety of poetry that Gioia read.
“The variety of poems that he read were wonderful in their diversity — from funny to serious to thought provoking to romantic… I can’t remember what the name of the poem was, but I really loved his poem told from the perspective of the cat, Fred – I like a little comedy in my poems, and I thought it was hysterical. It was beautiful too, but mostly hysterical.”
That poem, titled “Alley Cat Love Song,” offered a comical take on the high-romantic style of poets such as Lord Alfred Tennyson.
“That’s good stuff! The problem is, working in an office, I didn’t have much occasion to write poetry in the high tragic romantic vein. But then I sort of came across a sort of doomed love affair, and I thought somebody should write a poem about it,” Gioia explained. “A friend of mine had a sort of superannuated orange tabby cat named Fred, and she decided to sort of brighten up his twilight years, and brought him home a child bride. It was a sort of unusual May-December marriage, because the young cat was completely smitten with Fred, but it proved too late in December for Fred to reciprocate… And so I wrote her this poem.”
In addition to showing his comedic side, Gioia’s works included poems that were touching, somber, and nostalgic. The selection from which Gioia also included a poem that dealt with the loss of his son to sudden infant death syndrome, the secret language between longtime lovers, and much more.
“Colusa is very fortunate that he visited,” DaGrosa said. “Hopefully, he will be able to come back so he can reach more people in the community.” ■