Poetry month came and went with typically little fanfare and all but true poetry lovers neglect this ancient literary form. More often we miss the poetry in our midst. After all, every breathtaking blue sky or the morning marine layer hugging the coastline like a low flying cloud, that too is poetry.
Poetry is the most conceptual form of literature, the verbal equivalent of an abstract painting, and no two people experience the same poem in the same way. Nor do we see even the same sky, that is, if we stop to look.
Dana Gioia, poet and proponent of poetry, and former head of the NEA, who spoke at the Laguna Beach Arts Alliance Arts Awards earlier this year, has just published his fourth collection entitled “Pity the Beautiful.” At one time, Gioia argued in defense of old-fashioned rhyme and metric. This eclectic collection, part free verse, part formal verse with rhyme, is anchored at the center by an enchanting long prose poem entitled “Haunted.”
In elegant lyric about ghosts, children, lovers lost and found, the passing of time, or the son who died in infancy, each poem is a work of art that touches that part of us too often untouched. And occasionally make us smile. “I believe a poet should be free to write in any way the poem demands,” Gioia says.
The title poem reveals the not always enviable attribute of beauty: “Pity the pretty boys, the hunks and Apollos, the golden lads whom success always follows… Pity the gods, no longer divine. Pity the night, the stars lose their shine.”
“Winter Solstice” reminds us to cherish contrasts: “Blessed are the saint and the sinner who redeem each other. Blessed are the dead, calm in their perfection…Blessed is this shortest day that makes us long for light.”
Gioia might agree that blessed is the poetry that comes in the most unlikely places. Consider this lovely text by Raymond Persinger, carved in 2002 into posterity on the railing at the lookout at Brown’s Park. Persinger, head of Sculpting at Laguna College of Art & Design, immersed himself in the poetry of Robertson Jeffers for inspiration. “In this fleeting moment, what extravagant respite, as Promethian sunsets blossom blaze and recede from splendor to mystery. In this fleeting moment, what extravagant respite, as booming surf speaks its mystical passage across the undreamed depths.” [Punctuation added.]
Perhaps poetry is etched throughout the city – another form of art in this artists’ community. Good reason to stop now and then to notice.
“Pity the Beautiful,” published by Graywolf Press, is available at Laguna Beach Books. Brown’s Park is tucked off Coast Highway opposite GiGi’s Bistro.
Randy Kraft is a freelance writer who previously covered City Hall for the Indy and pens the OC BookBlog for www.ocinsite.com.