Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Reeser chooses Gioia

"Reeser chooses Gioia" will be the post until after Epiphany, since this is such a busy time of the year...

Poet Jennifer Reeser chooses a poem by Dana Gioia.

About Jennifer Reeser

Jennifer Reeser is the author of two collections, An Alabaster Flask, and Winterproof, and is also creator of the Shakespearean series Sonnets from the Dark Lady. She has contributed poems, scholarly articles and translations of French and Russian literature to such journals as POETRY, The Hudson Review, The Formalist, Light Quarterly and The National Review. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including Longman’s An Introduction to Poetry, and Phoenix Rising: The Next Generation of American Formal Poets. She is the former assistant editor to Iambs and Trochees. She is a poetry consultant on faculty at the West Chester Poetry Conference. She lives amid the bayous of southern Louisiana.

About the poem

Noon. It is the strongest, brightest time of day. Artists are advised to examine their subjects in this full spectrum white light, in order that they may clearly see all variegation in temperature and value.  Light from the noonday sun is the hardest light spill possible, the most accurate revealing light source available to the eye.   In this poem, I most appreciate the repetitive, ongoing aspect of perception – the interrogative -- set unexpectedly in the day, as opposed to morose, covert, romantic, deadening night.   However rueful the speaker’s message may be, the manner of his presentation is optimistic. This is (after all) the better man being given life, allowed to speak, the poem taking issue with its message, arguing against itself.  The reader learns that this is the man who is not, and yet here he is, regardless; the very fact of his presence, a positive statement.  The music of stanza three is irresistible, with its caesuras and alliteration, the “spin” of its last inquiry, as it were, spilling over into the unforeseen image of the rose. Horticultural wisdom goes that roses would rather drink than eat.  I find the poem’s fierce vulnerability to be appealing, and its refusal of irony to be a relief.   Its courtly diction overarches, beautifies and mitigates like a garden arbor the choler taking place beneath. As a reader, I feel a sense of inclusion through the speaker’s insistence on meaning. For me, the final line is unforgettable.

The poem


Just before noon I often hear a voice,
Cool and insistent, whispering in my head.
It is the better man I might have been,
Who chronicles the life I've never led.

He cannot understand what grim mistake
Granted me life but left him still unborn.
He views his wayward brother with regret
And hardly bothers to disguise his scorn.

"Who is the person you pretend to be?"
He asks, "The failed saint, the simpering bore,
The pale connoisseur of spent desire,
The half-hearted hermit eyeing the door?

"You cultivate confusion like a rose
In watery lies too weak to be untrue,
And play the minor figures in the pageant,
Extravagant and empty, that is you."

"Interrogations at Noon" reprinted by permission of Dana Gioia.


  1. Lovely post, Jennifer! And I'm glad to see comments and "likes" on your facebook page...

  2. A powerful poem, and a wonderfully helpful explication of it from Jennifer Reeser. Without that, it would have taken me a great many reads to understand this as well as I now do.

    I enjoyed this choice (both the poem, and the poet/writer too) enormously.

    Viva The Lydian Stones!

  3. I second Paul's comment. A lovely, beautifully phrased explication. Good choice.

  4. Thank you Jennifer for leading me so sensitively to this haunting poem by Dana Gioia. How true it is. The puppet we present to the world is not at all the best part of us nor even entirely real. The poet laments our false performance of what others expect of us. This poem is psychologically painful and honest. We are trapped by our false persona. There is no escape from the disappointment.
    I enjoy the elegance of the occasional refusal to rhyme. I am glad to have met this poem.

  5. This is the best piece I've seen of Gioia's.
    The meter and rhyme--along with the other figures, alliteration --build up a solid scaffolding upon which N can unfold his other self's accusations. The formal elements prevent the poem from lapsing into self-flagellation.
    Fine choice, Jennifer.

    Marly, The Throne of Psych came in the mail today. I'm savoring it slowly.

  6. Gioia's classic "Interrogations at Noon" is a poem to carry on the journey. Favorite line: "In watery lies too weak to be untrue"
    Jennifer Reeser's analysis is incisive and bears the same quality as mid-day light. How well she illuminates the optimism present alongside the unflinching and "fierce vulnerability." I loved her line: "Its courtly diction overarches, beautifies and mitigates like a garden arbor the choler taking place beneath." Thanks.

  7. Lance, glad you have a copy!

    And that the rest of you left a comment--I'm pleased the site is getting a lot of traffic, and it will be back next Tuesday.

  8. Thanks so much, everyone. I am grateful for the good words.