What we dare confide : a canonical case for the poetry, literary criticism, and public arts advocacy of Dana Gioia.

Date of Award


Document Type



Caspersen School of Graduate Studies

Degree Name

Doctor of Letters


I'm simply not famous enough, Dana Gioia playfully confessed in his commencement address at Stanford University, his alma mater, on June 17, 2007. The raison d'être for this dissertation is not to cultivate fame or celebrity for him but to elevate his canonical status principally as a poet, literary critic, and public arts exponent of surpassing, if under-appreciated, achievement. This dissertation applies the precepts of canonicity in Marjorie Garber's The Use and Abuse of Literature, Harold Bloom's The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life, and several other sources to Gioia's key, integrated contributions to literary and other arts. The central focus of scholarly attention here is Gioia's verse, in which he explores the tenet, absorbed from his Catholic faith, that adversity and loss can lead to greater humility, empathy, and commitment to change. His poetry also reveals and fosters a more profound appreciation of beauty--visible and invisible, penetrable and impenetrable--as part of an immanent, sacramental worldview. Moreover, a lambent wit, an engagingly brisk erudition, and a commanding grasp of prosody--nonce forms included--thread through his poems, investing them with a level of achievement warranting the canonical argument laid out in this dissertation. Besides his literary criticism and public arts advocacy, Gioia's NEA chairmanship during 2003-2009 and its unprecedented success in launching or boosting such programs as "Poetry Out Loud," "Operation Homecoming," and the Jazz Masters Fellowships are examined. Additionally discussed from his uncommon polymathy is its mutually nurturing effect on his mastery of such other component parts as translating, anthologizing, libretto composing, and authoring college textbooks. Gioia's lingering reputation as a controversial critic and New Formalist still tends to overshadow disproportionately his other accomplishments and has consequently hindered situating him higher in overall cultural estimation. This dissertation combines fresh insight, new compositional information, and gleaned past scholarship to put forward the proposition that Dana Gioia's overdue canonical re-valuation need not and should not wait for posterity's judgment about his place on Parnassus.