Robert Dana celebrated

A panel of literary luminaries celebrated the long poetic career of Robert Dana, poet-in-residence and English professor emeritus, at the annual Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference in Atlanta in March.

“A careful and fearless mind at work, a fierceness and delicacy of feeling, a great subtlety of craft, an intense localness of vision: they all come together in this poet as happily as we have come together today to honor him,” retired Harper & Row editor Ted Solotaroff told the audience.

Other panelists in “A Celebration of Robert Dana” included David Lynn of The Kenyon Review, Hilda Raz of Prairie Schooner, David Hamilton of The Iowa Review, and Stephen Corey of The Georgia Review .

Solotaroff talked about why he took Dana’s book, Starting Out for the Difficult World, at Harper & Row: “As it happened, much of Bob’s poetry is about the natural world which I’m ordinarily not a big fan of. But his wry use of it spoke to me. Take the title poem which begins in innocent eagerness—school girls with their books and clarinets, and modulates into a marvelously compact meditation on aspiring to high art in rural Iowa. Dana’s mentality might be defined as a kind of higher quirkiness. Seldom does a strong feeling make its way through one of his poems without being rattled and leached by variations and ends often enough in the grip of a counter feeling.”

Dana has authored 10 collections of poetry and is poet laureate of Iowa.

Starting Out for the Difficult World

This morning, once again,
I see young girls with
their books and clarinets
starting out for the difficult
world. The wind has turned
into the north. It picks a few
leaves from the trees, leaves
already curled, some brown.
They scatter. Even so, their
circles under maple and hack-
berry thicken. The light,
clean as juice to the taste.

Great art, someone said,
rides on the backs of the poor.
Perhaps that's so. But this
is not Long Island. No packed
white waves leap yelping on the shore.
Here, the nights are cold and starry.
Three solitary clouds pig along
the near horizon. And you could
mistake this autumn for Keats's
or your own, or the
autumn of someone you once knew.