Featured Reviews, VOLUME 5

Dana Gioia – Pity the Beautiful: Poems [Feature Review]

Page 2 – Dana Gioia – Pity the Beautiful

Gioia has a great skill in memorializing common moments, like reading old letters from a deceased parent and he creates surprising reflections on common landscapes like the interstate which he compares to Roman gods,

The gods do not condescend to our frailty.

They cleave our cities, push aside our homes,

Provide no place to walk or rest or gather.

The pathways of the gods are empty, flat, and hard.

They draw us to them, filling us with longing.

We do not fail to worship them.  Each morning

Millions creep in slow procession on our pilgrimages

We crave the dangerous power of their presence.

And they demand blood sacrifice, so we mount

Our daily holocaust on the blackened ground.

How beautifully these lines name a certain reality of the interstate—our willingness to sacrifice both place and people to maintain their landscape of speed.  And Gioia names this reality with both cleverness and beauty.

Another of the standout poems of the collection is written as a long ghost story, a beautiful and haunting tale that is also a reflection, in a Gatsby-esque way, on belonging and class (a theme that comes up often in Gioia’s poems).

In the most touching poem of the collection, “Majority”, Gioia reflects on the twenty-first birthday of his first born son who died in infancy.  Gioia reflects on seeing this son through the proxy of other children his age, but now that he has reached the age of majority, Gioia is prepared to let him go just as he would if his son were still alive:

Now you are twenty-one.

Finally, it makes sense

That you have moved away

Into your own afterlife.

Dana Gioia’s Pity the Beautiful is another breathtaking collection from one of America’s most skilled and insightful living poets.  Read the collection all the way through and memorize a few lines—they are well worth remembering.  These poems help sort out the tricky business of life in a world that is both sacred and profane, beautiful and ambiguous.


Ragan Sutterfield is a writer and agrarian who lives in Little Rock, Arkansas. He is the author of the book Farming as a Spiritual Discipline, and his newest project is SoulWOD.

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

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