It’s a Monday afternoon in May and the Mission Campus is bathed in a golden light, dappled shadows on the lawn, the breeze picking up. There’s poetry in the air—and for good reason: Dana Gioia is at the de Saisset Museum. Writer of verse and essays, former business exec, and head of the National Endowment for the Arts until 2009 (“the man who saved the NEA," Businessweek called him), Gioia is talking to a room full of students and faculty and staff about what he calls the element of magic in poetry, both in the meaning of the word poetry in other tongues (akin to enchantment in Romance languages) and in how we encounter this thing in our lives.
“Most of us are weighed down by responsibility,” Gioia says. “That’s the human condition: We’re distracted, we’re burdened. What a poem does is arrest your attention for a moment, give you the pleasure of the language, of the imagery, of the musicality of the form. And suddenly you realize there’s something odd about this pleasure, because this pleasure is linked to a kind of insight … You begin to see something essential about the world. It could be something small … It could be something gigantic. And then it’s gone. That’s the experience of beauty, the experience of art, the experience of poetry.”
The occasion for Gioia’s reading is a publication celebration for the new edition of The Santa Clara Review, the student literary journal whose origins as The Owl give it the oldest pedigree of any literary journal this side of the Mississippi. There is new writing from students who hail from South Carolina to Indonesia; there is photography, painting, and ink on paper. And there is a nod to the past with a whimsical excerpt from the 1874 Owl.
Earlier in the day, a poet who teaches at Santa Clara talks with Gioia about living a life of listening and the role of imagination. “I don’t think of that as a luxury,” she says. “That gives us leaders who can make the best decisions. These are qualities we associate with the arts in highly pragmatic ways.”
In Greek, the word poet is, literally, a maker. Yet, in our feature on “The Makers,” conspicuously absent is creative writing—the poems and creative nonfiction, the novels and the stories and screenplays. That’s not to say that writing or filmmaking is divorced from the artistic sensibility that animates the other makers who populate the pages (in print and digital) of this edition of SCM. But it is to say that we have more stories to tell than we can possibly exhaust in one edition about what it means to make art and teach the arts here and now, and the myriad ways they stretch mind and muscle, and how they summon you to: Imagine.
Keep the faith,
Steven Boyd Saum