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Dana Gioia Summary

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“On Being a California Poet” by Dana Gioia

Dana Gioia, author of “On Being a California Poet” beings his short story by explaining the history of the origins of the English language and introduces the reader to a few important points pertaining language and experience. Gioia mentions how, “by the time the English language had moved westward...Spanish was already rooted in California.” (201) this statement is followed by an ultimatum, despite English being our language it is still “slightly foreign to our environment” (Gioia 201). Given the example of, “an immigrant grandparent whose words and concepts don’t entirely fit in the new world.” (Gioia 201) Gioia paints a visual most can relate to with their own family members that may also have the issue of conforming to modern ideas and ways. With examples of English literature and comparisons of European climates to the West coast, Gioia expands on his point that it is difficult to be a California poet based on the simple fact that our language does not match our culture. An example of a comparison he makes is, “Our towns are named Sacramento and Santa Rosa, not Coventry or New Haven.” (Gioia 202) This statement is a play on words because Coventry and New Haven are cities in Connecticut, US but they are also both cities in England. Possibly Gioia made this specific comparison to entail how different California is from foreign countries in addition to the East coast of our own country. Gioia also lived on the East coast for twenty years in New York. On page 202 Gioia discusses, “California doesn’t fit the poetic archetypes of the English tradition.” Which after reading his story I find myself to believe very true from fairy tales to seasons and the people. It just doesn’t work in California.
The title gives a lot away, Gioia obviously writes about being a California poet. What is fascinating though is how he explains in a deeper sense the struggles of such a poet one may never have pondered about without reading his story. Gioia describes himself as, “a Latin without a single drop of British blood in [his] veins.” (201) and although he grew up reading Shakespeare and Milton, Gioia states that his “rich literary past often stands one remove by the experiential reality of the West.” (202) I believe he means that despite having knowledge and roots in England’s great literature it is hard to put in to words the experiences and magic California has to offer. The language and culture barrier between California’s past and present creates an apparent challenge to poets, an issue perfectly dissected and described by Dana Gioia author of “On Being a California Poet”.

Work Cited
Gioia, Dana. “On Being a California Poet.” My California: Journeys By Great Writers. Ed. Donna Wares. Santa Monica, CA: Angel City Press, 2004. 201-4. Print.

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