This question used to bother me much more than it does today. From my vantage point -- publishing and reading mostly on the internet, and reading things that I find absolutely fantastic and in no way slick or derivative or clubby -- things really are quite fine.
And I grow to distrust people who worry about this a great deal (not you Brian, don't worry.) I mean, there is poetry, it is out there, 90% of everything is fake, fraudulent, made in bad faith. I can say this about science definitely and without reservation, so why not poetry? What do people like Gioia want? What would it mean for poetry to "matter" the way Gioia wants it to? (My guess would be that Gioia wants *his* poetry to matter to everyone, which it can't, because Gioia's work is crap.)
Does abstracted, theoretical science matter to anyone? Not really, except for the practicioners, the afficiandos, and the students. Similarly for poetry. I don't find science to be in a bad way, and neither do I find poetry so.
That's quite a head's up. Gioia's poetry is crap? From a writer I've called the Hazlitt of the net?
Frankly, I had only really read Unsaid, which struck me a profound admission with a resonant last line, besides showing an assured mastery of form. I'm sure, like me, most readers who have responded to Gioia's essays haven't bothered to actually read his poetry, or much of it at any rate -- call it laziness, or more charitably, symptomatic of our all-too-lazy human condition. Anyway, I decided to go to his site and give the poems he has there a good read.
Well -- guess what? Besides Unsaid, two poems have something: Sunday Night in Santa Rosa, and Insomnia, although the latter is has plenty dull notes (tho it could be taken as a confession of a certain all-too-human dullness). The rest of it is crap. Planting a Sequia, California Hills, Rough Country, the Next Poem, Summer Storm, are almost embarrassingly bad -- embarrassing, perhaps, because I took the man seriously. Country Wife starts to have something, but is also pretty lame. Money, a clever kind of joke poem, is also a Rorcharch poem -- what you say about it shows you who you are, at least in relation to its form & subject. I could see some people getting off on this, but me it's a mini-Frankenstein's monster, a stitching together of dead metaphors that produces a half-dead result. Litany is somewhat interesting at points, but the final summation dross. Interesting that he has this apologetic footnote to that poem -- what kind of concept of audience is that, and what kind of inibitions is he working against in himself? Anyway, in these selected poems, I see plenty of turgid sentimentality, heavy-handed use of structure, and dull language. And these are his selected.
Kind of undermines the thesis, eh? (Excuse me, we actually say eh up here...)
Also, just to be true to a new-found purpose, I decided to look at Simon's poems (to be found in his links list). Simon's work tends toward the cryptic and elusive, a kind of abstracted theoretical science in itself. But I frankly enjoyed it more than Gioia's (well, there's no comparison, really) -- there is an alacrity in his suggestive sparks and minimalist adventures with syntax, images that stay, and no cliche or sentimentality here, no sirree! Interesting that he also has a poem called Money. I'm not sure why this poem is called Money, but trying to figure out why has been a good mind-sharpener for me. My question for you, Simon is: could this poem be influenced by Gioia? In calling his work "crap", could there an oedipal complex at play here? ;-)