Crossing Borders, Building Bridges (CBBB) hosted California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia on Thursday September 21, 2017 from 12-12:50 in rm 724 at the Marysville campus. Gioia, whose office is appointed by the Governor of California, Jerry Brown, is making it his goal during his term to visit and read in each and every county in California– 58 counties total. In March he visited Sutter County at the Sutter County Library where he made acquaintance with Neelam Canto-Lugo, the program director for the CBBB program. Canto-Lugo invited him to participate in the Yuba College program this Fall.
Mr. Gioia began his appearance with some information on the history of the his post. California was the first state to create the post of a Poet Laureate in 1915. “In a democracy language and literature are important.” says Gioia.
Born to a Mexican mother and Sicilian father, Gioia he touched on the importance of immigrants in the U.S. ‘My mother was a poor, little Mexican girl from LA who was raised in brutal poverty. Yet she would recite poetry around the house.” said Gioia. He recited a portion of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabelle Lee”, a favorite. “At a very early age these poems brought me into a different consciousness.” Gioia tells us.
He was the first in his family to attend college, a significant accomplishment. Gioia was accepted to Stanford where he found that he didn’t quite fit in with the monied students who had names like Coors and DuPont. While there, he says “I trained to talk about poetry in ways that the people I come from wouldn’t understand.” This is part of his reason for wanting to visit each and every county. He believes that “the arts should reach out and unite people, not separate them.”
According to Gioia the word for poem, song, and spell are the same in Latin. He says, “Poetry is a verbal spell we cast to keep something we don’t want to lose.” In relation to this he recited a poem he had written about a walk he took in an apple orchard many years ago with a woman he had been enamoured with at the time.
As the event moved on, Gioia informed us that his family had historically been vaqueros. For this reason he wrote a poem titled “The Ballad of Jesse Ortiz” which he performed for the crowd. The poem is a true story about his great grandfather who ended up in a place called Lost Cabin, Wyoming.
Perhaps the most moving of Gioia’s poems was about his son who was four months old when he passed. The poem takes the listener through his journey of vicariously watching the growth of his child through other children who were similar in age to the age his son would have been. He was finally able to let go and feel like he was able to let go. when he saw his son’s image in a young man who was turning twenty-one at the same time his son would have- an age when it would have been expected for his child to depart unlike the young age at which he was lost.
Gioia was a relatable speaker who connected well with the audience. Kelly Cunningham, from the Writing and Language Development Center at Yuba College, said “I really like him. I want to get his book.” And she did.
The collection of poetry by Gioia, “99 Poems, New and Selected,” is available from Gray Wolf Press.