“Don’t take any wooden ideals.”

William Heyen. Richard Blanco. Miriam Sagan. Sharon Olds. Campbell McGrath. Marge Piercy. Dan Giancola. There are only a mere handful of contemporary poets whom I hold in such high esteem that I immediately rush out and buy their new releases the instant they hit the bookstore (or the poet kindly gives me a copy). As I’ve said repeatedly: “Too many poets, not enough time.” In other words, despite poetry being a niche publishing category in the scheme of modern letters, there are just too many poets and their new books to humanly keep up with. But when one of those venerable poets has a new book out–bingo.

You might recall Dan Giancola from an earlier post in which I reviewed his masterfully curated book, Speaking in an Empty Room: The Selected Letters of John Sanford.


Today I’m focusing on his slim new volume of poems, Near-Ghazals (Bullhead Books, 2022), which Dan sent me as a gift–and which I plunged into immediately, setting aside everything else to dwell fully in his lines.

Oh my, oh my, oh my, what a thrilling read. But first, a quick instructional moment:

What for god’s sake is ‘s a “near-ghazal?” (Pronounced “guz-zle.”) Poet Joe Napora in his brief introduction to the collection explains: “A ghazal may be understood as a poetic expression of both pain of loss or separation and the beauty of love in spite of that pain. This ancient Persian form is traditionally five to fifteen couplets. As you’ll see, Dan’s “near-ghazals” are shorter: four couplets with a single-line closing stanza.

In this case, much of the “pain of loss” derives from the Covid 19 pandemic to which everyone on the planet can relate. But, then, oh, then also the “beauty of love.”

Enough of poetics. I invite you to dive into the poems, travel through 2022 with Dan, and hopefully find the thrills I found and discover how even when we are most in pain and suffering blankets the Earth, there is love. And through it, at least for this reader, an ultimate sense of exhilaration. Dan is a master stylist–his lines crackle with energy and exquisite precision and arresting sonics. Here are poems all written and published in a single year. Astonishing.

Take note too of the simple, but arresting design with its leaf motif–and metaphor. I wish you could feel the book in your hands.

I’m smitten, which you’ll also discover as you read the poems–and scan my marginalia on the text.

Many thanks for reading–and to the new subscribers who’ve joined The Muses’ Refugia since my last post: Jovan Stanton, Wellington Bradtke, Maurine Erdman, Joseph Lind, Melissa Schowalter, Scottie Rogahn, Deborah Abernathy, Sterling Muller, Nya Romaguera, Verla Donnelly, Cornelius Bashirian, Edd Wehner, and Jerod Balistreri.

Happy, happy holidays, my bloggy friends. Dan’s gift to me, my gift to you. Dwell in beauty.

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