SMC Hosts Former CA Poet Laureate Dana Gioia

At Santa Monica College's (SMC) Stromberg Hall on Oct. 3rd, former Poet Laureate of California from 2015 - 2019 Dana Gioia introduced himself to SMC students and faculty as both a poet and a fourth-generation American with Mexican and Sicilian roots. Born and raised in Hawthorne, Calif., Gioia read poems that testified to authentic California livelihoods.

Choosing to ditch his microphone and orate directly to the audience, Gioia presented testimonies to the art of experience and the passing of time. The poems Hot Summer Nights and Psalm of the Heights explore a tableau of the city; each experience is unique, including  dynamic and entangled relationships. The poems meditate on the human condition from a point of observation and reflection.

“Poetry is an art of memory and has always been one of the best ways in which we understand our mortality,” said Gioia.

In his tenure as Poet Laureate, Gioia visited all 58 counties of California, interacting with local communities and public spaces.

“I learned that everywhere I went – including small towns, rural areas, and marginalized urban neighborhoods – there is an audience for poetry and local writers. Creativity is in the DNA of California,” Gioia said.

With graduate degrees from Stanford and Harvard, Gioia, the first in his family to attend college, spoke about poetry as something he was inevitably attracted to growing up.
“It brought me to place outside of ordinary life,” said Gioia, reflecting on experiences with his mother who would recite poems from memory.

In The Ballad of Jesus Ortiz, Gioia performs the true story of the murder of his vaquero great grandfather: "Three thousand head of cattle / Fording the muddy streams, / And then three thousand phantoms / Bellowing in your dreams."

As Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) from 2003 to 2009, Gioia advocated for arts education, expanding the audience that the endowment could reach. Implementing programs like Poetry Out Loud and The Big Read, the NEA was able to engage young people and help expose them to literature and creative outlets.

“[Those programs] reached tens of millions of people and employed thousands of artists," said Gioia. "For the first time in its history, the NEA reached all of America. It saddens me to see how far the Agency has retreated...I am proud that both parties in Congress resisted the Trump Administration's attempt to close the agency.”