The commencement speaker at West Chester’s graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 8 will be Dana Gioia, a poet and the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. The ceremony, which each semester honors both graduate and undergraduate students for completing their degrees, is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. at Farrell Stadium. Gioia, himself the recipient of a bachelor of arts degree in English from Stanford University and a master of arts in comparative literature from Harvard, has in recent years addressed students at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian College and Mercer University, as well as his alma mater.
West Chester has also named Gioia the keynote speaker of its annual Poetry Conference-founded by Gioia-which will draw literary figures to campus from across the country from June 9-12. The conference is the largest of its kind in the nation.
Gioia’s volume of poetry, “Interrogations at Noon,” won the American Book Award for 2001.
In 2002, President Bush appointed Gioia to chair the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency that exists “to enrich our Nation and its diverse cultural heritage by supporting works of artistic excellence, advancing learning in the arts, and strengthening the arts in communities throughout the country.” Gioia expressed a passion for this goal in 1991, when he published an essay entitled “Can Poetry Matter?” in The Atlantic Monthly, stating, “Poetry has vanished as cultural force in America. If poets venture outside their confined world, they can make it essential once more.”
It is Gioia’s criticism that contemporary poetry is overly abstract and elitist, and the art form ought to return to main-stream relevance. He has been labeled a “formalist” for his traditional, introspective style of verse. He told the Electric Literary Forum in the spring of 1995, “I am not asking for poetry of the commonplace. I am asking for art powerful and comprehensive enough to reflect the full range of human emotion and desires.”