The day before speaking at Hillsdale’s fall con­vo­cation, renowned poet Dana Gioia read a selection of his own works to a group of stu­dents and faculty.

At the event, Gioia fol­lowed his poetry readings by answering ques­tions from the audience and signing books, engaging in further dis­cussion with the group.

The event orga­nizer, asso­ciate pro­fessor of English Dutton Kearney, explained that this event has been in the works for years.

“Fifteen years ago, the College invited Dana Gioia to speak at com­mencement,” Kearney said. “Dr. Arnn pulled out all stops, even offering to have him flown here in a private jet, but Mr. Gioia had sworn off all com­mencement addresses.”

Kearney was not a faculty member at the time, but a few years ago he received a request from Jeff Bilbro, an assistant pro­fessor of English at Spring Arbor Uni­versity, to partner with him in bringing Gioia to Hillsdale. Kearney accepted and began to work with Gioia to organize the trip.

“When Gioia men­tioned that he had pre­vi­ously been asked to give the com­mencement address, I realized that his visit was bigger than the Vis­iting Writers Program,” Kearney said. “I sug­gested that Dana speak at con­vo­cation: still a solemn aca­demic event, but not like com­mencement and he agreed.”

Kearney also noted the important role that Arnn played in bringing Gioia to the college. Unfor­tu­nately, problems arose that required the event to be pushed back.

“The delays sounded like an apoc­a­lypse: Wild­fires, floods, riots, even a plague,” Kearney said. “Covid pre­sented us with the longest delay, but all of us persevered.”

Gioia read poems com­posed in various styles, each con­veying a unique set of emo­tions. He explained that variety has helped him to com­mu­nicate to broader audi­ences on a deeper level.

“People have dif­ferent moods and dif­ferent sides,” Gioia said. “A person’s per­son­ality tends to be a thing of variety and abun­dance, and so I try to express that in my work.”

Gioia also advo­cated that, rather than iso­lating one’s poetic style to fit the current mold, one should write in the style that works best for them.

“Because I was trained in music, I probably respond more deeply to the musical ele­ments of poetry,” Gioia said. “But I write in both free verse and forms.”

Kearney noted that he was pleased with the event, observing the way Gioia was able to cap­tivate his audience.

“Some people in the audience were moved to tears, and some to laughter, but all were rapt for the entire 45 minutes,” Kearney said.

Assistant Pro­fessor of edu­cation, Jonathan Gregg, who was in atten­dance, agreed. He said that he enjoyed Gioia’s poems on mar­riage, espe­cially as a married man himself.

“I love that he is such a con­structive poet, not seeking to tear down or expose mean­ing­lessness, but instead always searching for meaning and looking to bring ideas together and show them in new ways,” Gregg said.

Gioia con­cluded the event saying that poetry should invite readers to par­tic­ipate with the writer in cre­ative thought and bring an audience to a place of dis­covery as they listen.

“Poetry is song,” Gioia said. “And I hope that the music of the poems unlock dis­cov­eries for the audience that are com­men­surate with the dis­cov­eries I had while writing the poems.”